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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 15:57 GMT
The BBC's Jane Standley in New York
The BBC's Jane Standley joined us for a live forum and answered a selection of your questions.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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New Yorkers are coming to terms again today with another tragedy in their city a day after an airliner crashed onto a residential suburb.

Investigators say preliminary evidence points to mechanical failure rather than terrorism as the cause of Monday's air crash in New York, but for many hours Americans feared they were again under attack and the city tunnels and highways were closed temporarily.

So far 265 bodies have been recovered from where the American Airlines jet crashed, near the city's John F Kennedy airport. Up to nine people are still believed to be missing. Many residents and firemen in the suburb were killed in the Twin Towers attack.

It was the first major airline crash in the United States since four passenger flights were crashed in suicide hijackings on 11 September, destroying both towers of the World Trade Center in New York and smashing into the Pentagon in Washington.


Transcript:


Newshost:

Can I just ask what was your reaction when you first heard the news yesterday of the plane crash?


Jane Standley:

Of course the fear was very similar in everyone's minds including our own. It was two months to the day after the attacks on the World Trade Center - it was a plane. There were plumes of smoke being seen from buildings - obviously not buildings as high as the World Trade Center used to be - and at a very similar time of day, 9 o'clock in the morning New York time. So at first the horrible thought was surely this is another attack, this is what we have been fearing. But at the moment, of course, it does all seem as if it was a terrible tragic accident but our hearts were in our mouths along with many New Yorkers.


Newshost:

I have emails here from people who are very keen to ask your questions about what happened. Michelle Moyle, USA: What is the mood of the people in New York at the moment in the wake of this tragedy?


Jane Standley:

I think people today are much calmer in most of the city and certainly here in Manhattan - going about their business and getting on with things. People in New York have been taking things day by day. After the last couple of months there has been a lot of alerts from the government to be careful. There was heavy security here in the city because of the United Nations General Assembly - there were lots of heads of state here - so things were quite tense. They feel very on edge but their hearts go out to the families who have lost people on this American Airlines flight. But people are still very determined to carry on and thinking as well, what on earth can happen to us next.


Newshost:

D. Gonzalez Crespo, Venezuela: Is it possible that the security forces of the United States divert the public of news of another terrorist attack and make it appear an accident?

Another question on that point from Bill Clark, Camden, UK: The American authorities seemed quick to label this disaster an accident even though there seemed to be no communication between the plane and air traffic control before the crash. I don't wish to sound like a conspiracy theorist but would there be advantages for the authorities to cover up a terrorist attack? That thought must be going through many people's minds.


Jane Standley:

I think indeed it is. Certainly the way it was worded was no unusual communications, when really it was no communication at all. I think the distinction that was made was very much intended to set people's minds at rest very, very quickly. However, there are people, like your questioner, who think - well is there something else there.

It certainly would be in the government's advantage, that if this was a terrorist attack, to cover it up. But I don't really think that that is possible here. Certainly most people don't believe that. But look at some of the CIA's record, for example, - it's assassination of world leaders and dirty dealings abroad. There will be people like your questioner from Venezuela, who are thinking is there something strange going on here. I think certainly other countries in the world will perhaps put that view forward. But it's certainly not anything widely believed here in the United States. This is pretty much accepted as a tragic and dreadful accident that really has shaken people more than it would because of the timing.


Newshost:

Rob, London, UK: What was the initial reaction from the media circles after hearing of this latest plane crash and what theories first started to circulate?


Jane Standley:

American networks in particular and local stations here are very keen to speculate and to talk quite widely because they are on all the time - there are a lot of talk stations, live reporting - so of course they have got to fill that air time. As we've said, it was a plane - an American Airlines plane - and of course one of those went into the Pentagon and one went into a tower of the World Trade Center on September 11th. People were willing to put the pieces together and say hang on a minute this must be some sabotage of some sort. Certainly because when the plane was found to be taking off from JFK, heavily laden with fuel, everyone put two and two together and made a bit more than four. But it soon was reassured by some eye-witnesses, in particular - ordinary members of the public - who saw the engine drop off the plane that it certainly wasn't a suicide bomber aiming at a building in the way that we had seen just two months ago.


Newshost:

Sadie, New York: No one feels safe anymore? What are security staff and officials doing to make New Yorkers feel safe?


Jane Standley:

I think there is a huge sense of vulnerability. You see it when you travel on the subway and there's an alert on the line and people's faces really show the terror and the shaken up feeling that many, many people have here. You can see when they're having bags searched or with checkpoints on the street - it really is remarkable how much New York has changed.

But at the same time much of life amazingly goes on as normal in the city. I think there are increased security precautions but there are worrying gaps. For example, I know of certain places in the city where the security looks very, very good - with police, with trucks filled with sand as buffers against any suicide bombers and these police can't actually communicate with each other, with radios and cell phones and that is quite worrying.

Also there have been incidents over the past week at JFK airport where a terminal had to be closed down temporarily because agents who were watching security staff checking people observed that those security checks were not being done properly. I think there is a lot more that needs to be done. As somebody who has travelled widely around the world, America is still not up to the security standards of other countries. Bags, for example, travelling without passengers on planes still continues. This worries me as someone who has to get on a plane here.


Newshost:

Leigh Chambers, UK: It's hard to imagine the level of trauma and anxiety that New Yorkers are currently experiencing and our thoughts are with them. Do you think they will accept that this crash could have been an accident or will the increased tension lead to a damaging paranoia?


Jane Standley:

I think that there is already a damaging paranoia in the city because of this huge impact and trauma the city has been through. This crash will certainly make it harder for the people, who have great resolution and great determination, just to keep no and not be beaten and to keep going. For example, the Empire State Building was evacuated and closed again yesterday. It is seen as a very obvious target here. It is the tallest building now in the city. I know people who work in that building and their nerves are in shreds because they are evacuated quite frequently, there is heavy security going into the building. That is really hard on them on a personal level because on September 11th when they were evacuated, many people felt in their hearts that there was a plane heading towards them as well.

So many people have been touched by this who saw the twin towers fall, fled for their lives. There are things that we are going to see over the coming weeks, months and years in New York. The psychologists believe there will be an increase in abuse of children, of physical relationships, of alcohol, drugs etc. as a result of what people have endured. I think that the scars on the city are very, very deep and it doesn't really help that people have now been through this air crash. Also we remember in the weeks in between that and the World Trade Center attacks, the anthrax scares and people who have been infected and killed in this city, that's really frightened people as well.


Newshost:

Michael Penn, UK: What do you think the long- term effects on the financial firms will be? With the massive relocation efforts that must have taken place and the competition for valuable floor space in Manhattan, are many feeling that New York is now too dangerous a place to do business?


Jane Standley:

There are individuals who we've spoken to who are moving out of New York or moving away from the United States totally because they feel worried to be here. But I don't think that that is widespread. There are people who would prefer to be elsewhere but they understand that their business and their work is here and so they stay here.

I think on the issue of firms - big financial houses who've relocated out say into New Jersey just across the river from Manhattan - that is going to have a long time effect on the downtown area of New York. It's going to be hard to lure those firms back in. We don't yet have a comprehensive rebuilding plan or budget for the downtown part of New York and businesses in that wider area - restaurants, dry-cleaners, florists - all the peripheral things that go with having a big working population - 70,000 - 80,000 people have lost their jobs or are no longer going to the area around the World Trade Center. It is not hard to see how those people and those firms are affected. It's not a good outlook at the moment.


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13 Nov 01 | Americas
New York crash 'an accident'
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