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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

American Airlines Jet Crashes in New York

Wnyw-tvNew York firefighter examining the wreckage of the plane, which crashed after taking off Monday for the Dominican Republic. All 255 people on board were believed dead.
NEW YORK -- An American Airlines jetliner en route to the Dominican Republic with 255 people aboard broke apart and crashed moments after takeoff Monday from John F. Kennedy Airport, setting homes ablaze. There were no known survivors.

Bush administration officials said the FBI believed an explosion occurred aboard the jet, and witnesses reported hearing one. But investigators suggested the noise was caused by a catastrophic mechanical failure, and a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "It's looking like it's not a terrorist attack."

Still, the city -- on edge after the Sept. 11 attack in which hijacked airliners brought down the World Trade Center -- was put on high alert in the minutes and hours after the crash.

Fighter jets flew over the scene in the Rockaway Beach neighborhood of Queens, in the southeastern part of New York City. All metropolitan-area airports -- Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark, New Jersey -- were closed for hours, and international flights were diverted to other cities. Dozens of domestic flights were temporarily grounded or redirected across the eastern half of the country. Major bridges and tunnels into New York were also closed for hours.

The United Nations, where world leaders were attending an annual General Assembly debate, closed its headquarters to pedestrians and vehicles, and the Empire State Building was evacuated.

Flight 587, an Airbus A300 with 246 passengers and nine crew members aboard, went down at 9:17 a.m. in clear, sunny weather in the waterfront neighborhood 25 kilometers from Manhattan.

A plume of thick, black smoke could be seen kilometers away; flames billowed high above the treetops.

"I don't believe there are any survivors at this point," Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said.

There were no immediate reports of anyone killed on the ground. About 30 people who were hurt on the ground were treated at a hospital for minor injuries, mostly smoke inhalation.

Four houses were destroyed, four were seriously damaged, and as many as a dozen others sustained lesser damage, the mayor said.

Some people used garden hoses to try to contain the flames. Others grabbed their children and fled their homes in terror.

"People were screaming and running," said Janet Barasso, who wept as she recounted fleeing from her home a block from the crash site with her two sons, ages 10 and 16. "I thought we were being bombed, because I didn't see the plane."

Witnesses reported hearing an explosion and seeing an engine and other debris falling off the flaming twin-engine jet as it came down. An engine was found intact in a parking lot at a gas station, missing the gas tanks by no more than 2 meters. Part of a wing appeared to be in Jamaica Bay, just offshore, Giuliani said.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said there were no "unusual communications" from the cockpit. And a senior administration official said that no threats against airplanes had been received.

The National Transportation Safety Board was designated the lead agency in the investigation, signaling that authorities have no information other than that a mechanical malfunction -- and not a terrorist attack -- brought down the plane.

A law enforcement source at the scene told The Associated Press that the likelihood of a mechanical problem stemmed from the fact that flames were seen shooting out of the left engine and that witnesses reported the plane had difficulty climbing and was banking to the left.

The plane's engines were made by General Electric Co.

Jet engines have been known to break up catastrophically, throwing shrapnel through a plane. In 1989, a United Airlines DC-10 crashed in Sioux City, Iowa, killing 112 people, after the metal hub that holds the engine's fan blades shattered and ruptured the jet's hydraulic lines. In 1979, an American Airlines DC-10 crashed on takeoff in Chicago, killing more than 270 people, after one of its engines broke loose and severed hydraulic lines along the wings.

The NTSB said investigators recovered the Airbus flight data recorder, one of the jetliner's two "black boxes."

In Washington, President George W. Bush met with advisers, seeking details of the crash. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said intelligence agencies, the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration were reviewing all recent intelligence for any signs that terrorism was involved.

The plane had been scheduled to leave at 8 a.m. and arrive in Santo Domingo at 12:48 p.m. According to the FAA, it took off at 9:14 a.m. and crashed three minutes later.

In the Dominican Republic, relatives of passengers crowded Santo Domingo's airport, sobbing and grasping each other after hearing about the crash.

"Oh my God!" said Miriam Fajardo, crying after being told that her sister and three nephews were aboard. "I hadn't seen them in eight years. Now they're gone."