An American Airlines flight out of John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport in New York City crashes into a Queens neighborhood after takeoff on this day in 2001, killing 265 people. Although some initially speculated that the crash was the result of terrorism, as it came exactly two months after the September 11 attacks, the cause was quickly proven to be a combination of pilot error and wind conditions.
Flight 587 took off at 9:14 a.m., bound for the Dominican Republic with 260 passengers and crew on board. Just ahead of the Airbus 300 jet, also using runway 31, was a Japan Air 747. Even with the standard four-mile distance between them, the 747 created some wake turbulence that hit Flight 587 just minutes after takeoff. As the plane climbed to 13,000 feet, there were two significant shudders and then a violent heave.
Unfortunately, the pilots of Flight 587 overreacted to the wake turbulence and their subsequent maneuvers put too much strain on the tail section of the plane. The tail, along with the rudder in the rear, broke off completely and fell into Rockaway Bay. Without this part of the plane, Flight 587 crashed to the ground.
As Flight 587 was in its final moments, Kevin McKeon was in his house on Queens’ Rockaway Peninsula. In an instant, his house virtually exploded; he was thrown out into his yard as the plane fell onto his house. In all, 10 homes were set ablaze, and five people on the ground, as well as all 260 people on the plane, lost their lives. The disaster hit Rockaway especially hard, as the community was still reeling from the September 11 attacks, in which 65 area residents lost their lives.