American Airlines Flight 587 was a regularly scheduled international passenger flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Las Américas International Airport in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. On November 12, 2001, the Airbus A300B4-605R flying the route crashed shortly after takeoff into the Belle Harbor neighbourhood of Queens, a borough of New York City. All 260 people aboard the plane (251 passengers and 9 crew members) were killed, along with 5 people on the ground. It is the second-deadliest aviation incident involving an Airbus A300 and the third-deadliest aviation incident to occur on U.S. soil.
The location of the accident and the fact that it took place two months and one day after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan initially spawned fears of another terrorist attack. Terrorism was officially ruled out as the cause by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which instead attributed the disaster to the first officer’s overuse of rudder controls in response to wake turbulence from a Japan Airlines (JAL) Boeing 747-400 that took off minutes before it. According to the NTSB, the aggressive use of the rudder controls by the first officer caused the vertical stabiliser to snap off the plane, along with the plane’s two engines separating from intense forces before impact.
Because the crash occurred just two months and one day after the September 11 attacks in New York, several major buildings including the Empire State Building and the United Nations Headquarters were evacuated. In the months after the crash, rumors circulated that the plane had been destroyed in a terrorist plot, with a shoe bomb similar to the one found on Richard Reid. In May 2002, a Kuwaiti national named Mohammed Jabarah agreed to cooperate with investigators as part of a plea bargain. Among the details Jabarah gave authorities was a claim made to Jabarah by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s lieutenant, who told Jabarah that Reid and Abderraouf Jdey had both been enlisted by the al-Qaeda chief to carry out identical shoe-bombing plots as part of a second wave of attacks against the United States. According to this lieutenant, Jdey’s bomb had successfully blown up Flight 587, while Reid’s attempt had been foiled.
In May 2002, a Canadian government memo was written that repeated the claims suggesting that Jdey had a role in the crash, while conceding that the reliability of the source of that information — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s lieutenant — was unknown. According to information contained in the memo, Jdey — a naturalized Canadian citizen — was to use his own Canadian passport to board the flight. While American Airlines’ passenger manifest did indicate citizens boarding with passports from the United States, the Dominican Republic, Taiwan, France,[d] Haiti, and Israel, no passengers boarded using a Canadian passport. According to NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz, the weight of the memo’s veracity was put into question, as no evidence of a terrorist traveling on board was found. The evidence suggested that the aircraft was brought down after a piece of the empennage, “the vertical fin, came off”, while it did not indicate “any kind of event in the cabin.”