Remembering Flight AA587

Today (12 November 2020) is the 19th anniversary of the flight AA587 accident.

For those unfamiliar with the accident, the key points (taken from Wikipedia) are that AA587 was a scheduled international passenger flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Las Américas International Airport in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. The Airbus A300B4-605R flying the route crashed into the neighbourhood of Belle Harbor, on the Rockaway Peninsula of Queens, New York City shortly after take-off. All 260 people aboard the plane (251 passengers and 9 crew members) were killed, along with five people on the ground. It is the second-deadliest aviation incident involving an Airbus A300 and the second-deadliest aviation accident in U.S. history behind 1979’s American Airlines Flight 191. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) attributed the disaster to the first officer’s overuse of rudder controls in response to wake turbulence from a preceding Japan Airlines (Flight JL47) Boeing 747-400 that took off minutes before it. According to the NTSB, the aggressive use of the rudder controls by the first officer stressed the vertical stabilizer until it snapped off the aircraft. The airliner’s two engines also separated from the aircraft before impact due to the intense forces.

Like many people I suspect, my memory of the crash was scrabbling to get news about it and what had happened due to fears that it may have been terrorist-related as it came just two months after 9/11. I remember trying to access the BBC News website, but it struggling to load as it couldn’t cope with the number of people trying to access the pages.

Today my interest in the crash relates to my research about modifications made to public transportation memorials, linked to my research about the flight JL123 crash. During the course of the research for that article, I found that there are many public transportation accidents in the USA where there are no memorials at all and it was hard to find sufficient cases where public transportation accidents have a memorial and that fitted with the parameters of the study (TWA800 being the only example I found). Given the memorials for 9/11, for example, this was a surprising finding. There is a memorial for AA587, established five years after the accident, but it is not at the crash site itself.


Inspection of the crash site, however, itself reveals that it has been returned to its original use with a house built on it.

The AA587 crash site in 2020

For comparison, this is what the AA587 crash site looked like in 2003

The way in which the crash site itself has been returned to its original use was a major surprise. I hope one day to return to New York and visit both the crash site and the memorial.

To the victims of the disaster itself, may you rest in peace, and to their families and others caught up in the disaster, I wish you all well.

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