The Airbus A300 that lost its vertical tail fin and crashed into a residential New York neighborhood on Nov. 12 had been blown backward onto its tail in 1987 by a violent storm that swept the Airbus factory in France as the wide-body plane sat outside awaiting final construction, said sources close to the investigation.
There is no preliminary indication that the freak event had anything to do with the crash of American Airlines Flight 587, which killed 260 people on the New York-Santo Domingo flight and five on the ground. Airbus sources said the aircraft was carefully inspected after the storm, and no damage was found.
But investigators said they cannot overlook potential evidence, no matter how old or remote, in a crash that so far has defied explanation and may take investigators into unknown territory.
Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board, Airbus and French authorities shy away from calling the disaster a "mystery crash," particularly because they have gathered useful information from the crash site and from the plane's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.
Investigators know a lot about what happened but cannot say why it happened.
No one found any indication of terrorism. The engines seemed to check out fine. Weather does not seem to have been a factor. But almost everything else remains on the table and many months may pass before investigators can confidently determine a probable cause.
All the major possible scenarios -- serious flying errors by an experienced crew, a heretofore unknown type of rudder malfunction, an unlikely flaw in the composite carbon-plastic tail fin attachments, hidden damage that eluded inspectors or some combination -- are disturbing.
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