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Final minute aloft a 'very wild ride' for Flight 587

An image from a NASA video shows a test of the effects of wake turbulence. Investigators are looking at whether such turbulence played a role in the New York crash.
An image from a NASA video shows a test of the effects of wake turbulence. Investigators are looking at whether such turbulence played a role in the New York crash.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Preliminary readings from the last 28 seconds of Flight 587's data recorder indicate the plane twice encountered turbulence from another aircraft and then was pushed from side to side by significant force, officials said Thursday.

"What we have now is a very confusing picture, a very wild ride on that aircraft and we need to know why that tail snapped," former National Transportation Safety Board chairman Jim Hall told CNN.

After the American Airlines plane was buffeted by two wakes of similar intensity from a plane that took off before it, the aircraft appeared to be flying normally.

Both the pilot and co-pilot had undergone advanced manuever training, which includes how to recover from a "wake votex encounter that resulted in an unusual attitude (of the plane)," said NTSB Assistant Director Tom Haueter.

Investigators are looking into the possibility that turbulence from another plane contributed to the crash. CNN's Kathleen Koch reports (November 15)

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As a vigil for the victims of the crash was held in New York, the Dominican Republic mourns those lost. CNN's John Zarrella reports (November 14)

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But in the last eight seconds recorded by the Flight Data Recorder (FDR), the plane was pushed left, left and right with significant force. Data shows the rudder moved in the opposition directions, probably corrections by the pilot.

After that, the rudder stopped sending usable data, the current head of the NTSB Marion Blakey said. That is also believed to be when the pilots lost control.

Investigators have said the debris trail indicates the Airbus 300 first lost its tail fin and rudder, then both engines before the fuselage plunged to earth, killing 265 people.

The FDR data ends about 20 seconds before the cockpit voice recorder(CVR) went silent, which was about the time of impact, according to investigators.

NTSB investigators are trying to determine what could have snapped the tail from the doomed airliner, leaving the pilots unable to control the aircraft.

"There were no marks on the fin section or the rudder," NTSB member George Black told CNN earlier. "We haven't found any other evidence of any impact with any foreign object. It appears to be some sort of aerodynamic effect."

Haueter reported that examinations of both engines found no indication of pre-impact failure or fire and no evidence of a bird strike. Investigators have repeatedly said there are no signs of sabotage.

Meanwhile, the FAA is expected to order inspections of Airbus A300s because of the crash.

The agency "expects to mandate fleetwide inspections of the affected A300 structure (Thursday)," FAA spokesman Les Dorr said, explaining that the inspections will include a close look at the tail section. "We are working closely with Airbus, the French authorities and the U.S. operators of the A300 to determine precisely what the inspection procedures should be," Dorr said.

American Airlines said it has already begun inspections on the A300s in its fleet. No other U.S. passenger airline flies A300s.


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