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Fleischer - No unusual communications from plane's crew

Monday, November 12, 2001

AP White House CorrespondentWASHINGTON (AP) -- White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said there were no unusual communications from the cockpit of an American Airlines plane that crashed Monday in New York, and a senior administration official added, "It's looking like it's not a terrorist attack."

Fleischer declined to rule terrorism in or out as a possible cause of the attack, but said he would not dispute the assessment of the other official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

At a White House briefing, Fleischer noted that the National Transportation Safety Board had been named the lead investigative agency into the crash, in which an Airbus crashed shortly after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. That signaled that authorities have no information other than that a mechanical malfunction -- and not a terrorist attack -- brought down the plane with a large loss of live.

Fleischer cautioned that initial information often can turn out to be incorrect.

With the nation on high alert, a result of the Sept. 11 attacks, Fleischer said President Bush was handed a note shortly before 9:30 a.m. that a plane had gone down.

Bush spoke with New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki, while Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge went immediately to the White House Situation Room and initiated a conference call with other senior administration officials, Fleischer said.

The spokesman stepped to the microphones in the White House briefing room less than three hours after the plane crashed with 255 passengers and crew members aboard. Several eyewitnesses reported hearing explosions aboard the plane, and a piece of an engine came to rest outside a gas station in the Queens section of New York.

"There were no unusual communications with the cockpit," Fleischer said. He said investigators had not yet found the "black box" that records important in-flight information.

He also said Bush had dispatched federal investigators and search-and-rescue personnel to the scene.

The crash triggered moments of intense concern inside the administration, struggling to cope with the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and the anthrax outbreak that followed a few weeks later.

But initial information seemed to allay concern that the American Airlines crash was another bout of terrorism. "It's looking like it's not a terrorist attack, but we can't reach a firm conclusion yet," said one senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

While Fleischer declined to second that, he said the president was aware of those reports. The spokesman added there was "understandable reason" why those statements had been made.

While the New York area airports were closed in the wake of the crash, Fleischer said officials did not intend to shut down the nation's airline system, as was done following the hijackings of Sept. 11.


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