Vintage: 18 years since the crash of Flight 587 in New York City, US
It’s been 18 years since American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into a New York neighbourhood on 12 November 2001, killing all of those on board and several on the ground. For a few anguished hours on 12 November 2001, Americans still in shock over the 9/11 attacks watched television footage of the blazing wreckage of a jetliner that had just crashed in a Queens neighbourhood in New York City and wondered, “Is it happening again?” It wasn't. By late afternoon, authorities were saying the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 looked like an accident, not terrorism. The country breathed a sigh of relief. The horror and grief lingered longer for the loved ones of the 265 dead.
On 12 November 2001, about 9h15 eastern standard time, American Airlines flight 587, an Airbus Industrie A300-605R, N14053, crashed into a residential area of Belle Harbor, New York, shortly after takeoff from John F Kennedy International Airport, Jamaica, New York. Flight 587 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight to Las Americas International Airport, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, with two flight crewmembers, seven flight attendants and 251 passengers aboard the airplane. The airplane’s vertical stabiliser and rudder separated in flight and were found in Jamaica Bay, about a mile north of the main wreckage site. The airplane’s engines subsequently separated in flight and were found several blocks north and east of the main wreckage site. All 260 people aboard the airplane and five people on the ground were killed and the aircraft was destroyed by impact forces and a post-crash fire. Flight 587 was operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 on an instrument flight rules flight plan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident.
The safety issues discussed in the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report focus on characteristics of the A300-600 rudder control system design, A300-600 rudder pedal inputs at high airspeeds, aircraft-pilot coupling, flight operations at or below an airplane’s design manoeuvring speed and upset recovery training programs. Safety recommendations concerning these issues are addressed to the Federal Aviation Administration and the Direction Général de l’Aviation Civile.
The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the in-flight separation of the vertical stabiliser as a result of the loads beyond ultimate design that were created by the first officer’s unnecessary and excessive rudder pedal inputs. Contributing to these rudder pedal inputs were characteristics of the Airbus A300-600 rudder system design and elements of the American Airlines Advanced Aircraft Manoeuvring Programme.
Aircraft accidents can occur anywhere and at any time. Although the crashing of Flight 587 was a unique incident, the emergency following the accident was also unique. Since the Flight 587 was a large aircraft, it required additional emergency systems. Various groups and individuals showed up at the site to offer their help. The emergency response was prompt with various volunteers, fire fighters, police personnel and residents. Fire fighting trucks and ambulances arrived almost immediately to offer help. In this case, it is important to note that the local emergency response was prompt as various groups cooperated to help normalise the situation. Every individual, including the young, felt that they had a responsibility in reducing the effects of the fire. Hence, they help reduce the number of fatalities on the ground.
Who was the first on the scene and what was the action taken?
The primary responders at aircraft accidents scenes are the law enforces. However, for the case of the Flight 587, it was difficult for the law enforcers to seal off the scenes of the accident from the public. The incident attracted a significant number of individuals from the neighbourhood. The majority of these people had lost close family member or friend during the 9/11 attacks. Nevertheless, the police and fire fighters responded promptly. They arrived at the various sites of the wreckage to control the public and help in reducing the effect of the flames. For instance, the police did a commendable job in barring the public from occupying the routes to the Rockaway peninsula. Due to geographical limitations, the place has only two entry points. Therefore, law enforcers helped turn back traffic at each end of the Marine Parkway and Veterans Memorial Bridges to facilitate the easy movement of the emergency vehicles to the peninsula.
The scene of the crash was home to a significant number of security personnel and fire fighters. When the plane crashed, they responded within almost 15 minutes after the crash. More than 25 fire fighting unit trucks and about 125 responded to the crash. Other fire engines and fire fighters from far places joined them later. The first fire engine, the Ladder Company 137, arrived at the main crash scene with a significant number of fire fighters. Off-duty officers came out in large numbers to help those on duty. The officers helped hoist ladders and stretch hoses. They performed extraordinarily. Without their presence, it would have taken additional time to put out fires and save additional homes.
Volunteer fire units in the region also offered significant help. Residents and volunteers joined forces used garden hoses o put out fires along the Beach 131st Street. When fire fighters arrived, the residents helped in stretching hoses towards flames. They also offered food, sheets, blankets and water to the rescue workers. The presence of residents willing to help encouraged the fire-fighters who were already overwhelmed and worn out both physically and mentally.
What was the Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) response to the Crash?
The Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) have the responsibility of mitigating hazardous materials, providing emergency medical care and facilitating emergency management when an aircraft catches fire. The organisation developed a victim assistance program to help the relatives of the deceased identify their bodies. The organisation also helped calm the victims, especially those who had lost their property during the incidence. Since the parts of the plane fell on people’s houses, ARFF had the responsibility of helping them fill forms for the plane removal process. The victims were to sign the forms before the removal of the wreckage from the scene (Department of Transportation, 2010). The organisation worked with various bodies to provide extra assistance to the victims and family members.
The NTSB made various recommendations after the Flight 587 accident. The board offered recommendations on emergency response and the maintenance of airplanes.
Recommendations for local emergency response.
The reports of the crash record that five lost their lives on the ground. The NTSB acknowledged the performance of the local emergency response. Various groups within New York including fire fighters, residents, security personnel and volunteers turned up in large numbers to help in containing a fire and turning debris to get bodies and help those buried in the debris. Thus, the NTSB recommends that the local governments should be keen on equipping the local fire fighting units with enough equipment to improve their effectiveness in times of emergency. Moreover, the board recommends that the government should be keen on training additional individuals, both young and old, on how to fight fires. During the crash, a young volunteer stopped riding his bike to go and assist in controlling the fire.
The board recommends that the local government should perform fire drills to prepare the residents in case of any emergencies. The drills will help prepare residents psychologically for any emergency reducing the chances of confusion. Moreover, the drills will equip residents and firefighting agencies with necessary knowledge on how to manage fires. The NTSB encourages improved communication between the various fire fighting agencies, volunteers and residents. Communication facilitates successful response in case of an emergency. The various bodies within a certain locality should be in touch with one another through telephones, social network groups and radios at all times. Moreover, the local agencies should hold regular meetings to one another and improve their working relations (Department of Transportation, 2010). In this case, it becomes easier for them to work together during an emergency. They should also meet to know their responsibilities and specific areas.
Recommendations for ARFF response.
The NTSB also made various recommendations to the ARFF response after the Flight 587 accident. The board recommended that ARFF should cooperate with various medical groups to generate and offer guidance to the ARFF personnel. The medical groups should train the personnel on how to deal with victims of an aircraft fire accident and reduce the number of fatalities. Moreover, the medical groups should train these individuals on how to behave during rescue missions. The groups should make it clear to them that it is dangerous to strike or roll over people who have severe injuries or dead bodies when driving the ARFF vehicles. The NTSB also recommends that the medical groups should assist the ARFF officers with proper equipment training to enable them to know how to deal with the victims and save lives.
The NTSB also recommends that the ARFF should liaise with various airports to create an Airport Emergency Plan (AEP) to satisfy the specific needs of individual airports. The board also insists that airports and ARFF should update the AEPs on a regular basis and incorporate it into the normal training sessions (Department of Transportation, 2010). The plan will help the ARFF be aware of the current trends concerning aircraft accidents and prepare accordingly. Moreover, it will equip the ARFF officers with skills necessary to contain aircraft fires saving time and lives during emergencies. Furthermore, the board requires that ARFF should create a checklist for emergency response. This checklist will ensure that all personnel are familiar with their responsibilities during emergencies.
The checklist will also include the names of the agencies that the ARFF can contact for help. The ARFF personnel should review this checklist on a regular basis, especially during training sessions and normal practice procedures. The NTSB also recommends that the ARFF should adopt a similar version of the National Incident Management System to improve its emergency preparedness program (Department of Transportation, 2010). The system includes various entities include government, the private sector and non-governmental bodies. This system provides information on how the different entities cooperate to prevent, prepare, respond, recover and mitigate an emergency. All responders under this system undergo vigorous training to prepare them adequately. In the same manner, the ARFF should develop a system that includes various bodies, both government and private, within and outside airports. This system will help the ARFF respond to emergencies, such as the Flight 587 accident, quickly and in an organised manner.
Sources: Essays, UK. (November 2018). Emergency Response to American Airlines Flight 587 Crash. Retrieved from https://www.ukessays.com/essays/aviation/emergency-response-american-airlines-flight-587-9827.php?vref=1, Fox News and National Transportation Safety Board