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Flight 587 crash
Aircraft on runway with map inset
  • After more than an hour of delays American Airlines flight 587 takes off from JFK airport at 0913am local time

  • The plane was due to arrive in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic at 1248pm
Wreckage scene
A firefighter sifts through the wreckage

After making an initial analysis of the flight voice and data recorders, US crash investigators believe the American Airlines airbus was hit twice by powerful wake turbulence from the plane immediately ahead.

Whether this - or already existing flaws that had left the Airbus vulnerable to turbulence - caused the plane to break apart is not yet clear.

But wake turbulence can be extremely strong and is known to have caused fatal crashes in the past.

To avoid running into this serious hazard planes are required to leave a gap of at least two minutes - or four nautical miles - before taking-off after the plane ahead of them.

Air traffic controllers did follow this protocol correctly, leaving a gap of two minutes 20 seconds in between clearing two planes to begin their journeys.

But a Japan Airlines jumbo jet seems to have paused slightly before take-off, leaving just one minute and 45 seconds between the two planes.

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