When a cause of the Flight 587 crash is determined, it may underscore an unsettling truth about aviation safety: we sometimes don't know where aircraft problems lie until they cause an accident. If that's the case this time, one thing is almost certain. This probe, like others before, will yield improved safety guidelines.
--By Rebecca Winters
AIR FRANCE CONCORDE FLIGHT 4590 JULY 25, 2000
Four on the ground and 109 on board die when the New York-bound jet crashes outside Paris minutes after takeoff. Investigators find that a piece of metal on the runway punctured a tire--sending debris flying into the fuel tank and sparking a fire.
REMEDY On Nov. 7, the planes resumed flying with reinforced tires and redesigned fuel tanks.
ALASKA AIRLINES FLIGHT 261 JAN. 31, 2000
A Boeing MD-80 on its way from Mexico to San Francisco crashes into the Pacific Ocean, killing all 88 aboard. The reason? A critical part of the plane's tail-control mechanism snapped off, most likely because of wear and a lack of adequate lubrication.
REMEDY Federal safety inspectors called for new maintenance procedures and better mechanic training.
SWISSAIR FLIGHT 111 SEPT. 2, 1998
Departing from New York City, a Boeing MD-11 en route to Geneva crashes off Nova Scotia, killing 229. Canadian investigators haven't determined a specific cause of the crash, but they suspect that wiring problems may have started a fire.
REMEDY The Canadian safety board has asked the FAA to require safer wiring and more stringent rules to keep flammable materials off planes.
TWA FLIGHT 800 JULY 17, 1996
A Paris-bound Boeing 747-131 explodes and crashes off Long Island after takeoff from J.F.K. International Airport, killing 230. Investigators believe that an explosion in a fuel tank was ignited by a spark generated by faulty wiring.
REMEDY The FAA now trains inspectors and engineers to look for wiring problems more carefully and asks airlines and manufacturers to do the same.
VALUJET FLIGHT 592 MAY 11, 1996
A McDonnell Douglas DC-9 plunges into the Florida Everglades shortly after takeoff from Miami. All 110 on board perish. The fire, investigators learn, stemmed from improperly stored oxygen containers in cargo holds.
REMEDY Airlines since have installed smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in cargo holds. Any airline that contracts out for maintenance, as ValuJet did, now gets heightened oversight.
USAIR FLIGHT 427 SEPT. 8, 1994
Approaching Pittsburgh, Pa., a Boeing 737 coming in from Chicago plummets to the ground as it prepares to land. A rudder malfunction, causing the plane to move in the opposite direction the pilots intended, is blamed. The crash killed all 132 passengers and crew.
REMEDY Boeing redesigned and is in the process of refitting the rudder-control systems on the 1,300 737s in its U.S. fleet.