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Investigators: Flight 587 tail came apart

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) - Layers of the tail of crashed American Airlines Flight 587 peeled away, investigators said Tuesday. But they said they did not know if the problem contributed to the Nov. 12 crash or occurred after the tail hit the ground.

In an update of its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board said it was studying the tail and rudder to see if they had any flaws that could have caused the crash, which killed 265 people.

Safety investigators said earlier that the tail fin, or vertical stabilizer, on the Airbus A300-600 fell off the plane before it crashed. The tail section is being analyzed at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

Safety board officials said they hoped to find an intact vertical stabilizer and rudder from an Airbus A300-600 in a salvage yard and study it as they try to find out why the plane crashed after taking off from New York's Kennedy Airport.

They know, for example, that sharp rudder movements were reported shortly before the crash, but still don't know if they were caused by the pilot or a mechanical failure, and whether the action caused the tail to fall off.

The NTSB also wants to know why bolts on several A300-600 planes had turned. The rotated bolts, which connect the tail to the fuselage, were found during Federal Aviation Administration-mandated inspections of all Airbus planes with nonmetallic composite tails.

''We are aware of it. It will be part of the investigation,'' NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said.

The bolts were tightened before the planes returned to the sky, and officials of Airbus North America and the FAA said there were never any concerns about safety.

Around 40 of the 93 Airbus A300-600 planes in the United States were affected. FAA spokesman Les Dorr said the agency was watching the situation.

Aviation consultant Jim McKenna said the bolts shouldn't have moved.

''The bolts aren't supposed to be loose,'' McKenna said. ''Generally they're a key component in keeping the vertical fin stiff. If they're loose, you have to explain whether or not it might introduce some vibration into the tail that wasn't accounted for in the testing certification of the part.''

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