American Flight 587

Outside editorial

Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Washington Post:

Again, it was around 9 a.m. eastern time, with bright blue skies over New York City, when word came of yet another American Airlines jetliner crash. In the high-alert atmosphere of post-Sept. 11, the possibility of a horrid reprise leapt to every mind: Would another jetliner smash down somewhere in a few minutes, and then still another? The fiery plunge of Flight 587 - with 251 passengers and nine crew members aboard, all presumed dead - ignited new anxiety about terrorist attack; but there were no immediate indications of criminal involvement. While the FBI pursued that point, the government response appears to be that accorded to aviation accidents. The National Transportation Safety Board assumed its role as lead agency; Board Chairman Marion C. Blakey said Monday that "all information we have currently is that this is an accident."

In fact, nobody knows. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer rightly cautioned against imputing causes at this point. Conspiracy theories are inevitable, and the desire for immediate answers is understandable. But it may take months for safety experts to complete their work. Neither they nor FBI agents should rule out any possible explanation prematurely.

What is clear is that this tragedy is another terrible blow: first, of course, to the families of those aboard, but also to New York City, especially the Rockaway Beach neighborhood still mourning the loss of as many as 100 residents - most of them firefighters or employees at the Cantor Fitzgerald bond firm. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, fresh from a number of funerals along these streets, was again on the scene with words of sympathy and encouragement. Several neighbors were reported missing. The crash is yet another blow to the airline industry, and especially American Airlines, already suffering its biggest loss in its corporate history, with 20,000 jobs cut since Sept. 11. The crash is more than likely to intensify fears about air travel just as the holiday season begins. The best way to begin restoring confidence is in the hands of Congress, which should pass legislation now - not in days or weeks - to improve airport security. What matters most to travelers is immediate passage of a bill that would produce a highly trained, well-equipped force under a single agency dedicated solely to safety. Whatever the evidence may reveal about the cause of Monday's crash, there is no excuse for any further delay.

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