Well, let’s see now–the data is accumulating. Both engines are intact (no internal failure), so that eliminates the bird ingestion theory. The aircraft lost both engines and the vertical stabilizer. The latter was reportedly taken off as cleanly as if someone had simply…loosened the fasteners. And the investigators say “they cannot rule out sabotage.”
Well, from what I understand about the situation now, being a glass-half-full-of-sabotage kind of guy, I’d put it differently–we cannot rule out random mechanical failure, but it’s starting to look very unlikely. The chances of a single engine falling off are very low. The chances of both engines just falling off are very low squared. The chances of both engines falling off, and the vertical stabilizer cleanly falling off are infinitesimal, absent active (sub)human intervention.
And the reporting on this is atrocious (as though that would distinguish it from any other subject). I’ve read things like “no intruders’ voices were heard on the cockpit voice recorder, ruling out sabotage.” As though it’s necessary, or even desirable, to be on an airplane that you’re sabotaging. Do these people even know what the word sabotage means?
OK, let’s forget about nail clippers and cleaning crew for the moment. How tight is the security in the maintenance hangars? What kind of background checks do the mechanics get? Have they checked the maintenance records for the plane, and checked to see who worked on it most recently, and who had access to it? It could have been done the night before, by simply loosening a few bolts on the pylons and empennage. Or it could have been done weeks before, planting shaped charges with a radio-controlled detonator, to blow off the engines and tail right after takeoff, almost ensuring a crash in…Queens. I hope that American (and the other airlines) have done an inspection of their entire fleet before flying them again.
At this point, if it turns out to not be sabotage, I’ll be very interested to hear the NTSB explanation for this one. It may be almost as entertaining (and sad) as the video that they cobbled together for TWA 800 to explain how flames falling from an aircraft could somehow magically appear to be a fire trail heading up toward it, to hundreds of eyewitnesses.