WASHINGTON - The co-pilot of an American Airlines jet that crashed nearly three years ago in New York killing 265 people made several inappropriate rudder movements that snapped off the plane's tail fin, said investigators.

The National Transportation Safety Board said elements of pilot training at the airline and the sensitivity of flight controls on the Airbus A300-600 also contributed to the air disaster, the second-worst in US history.

"Several human performance and aeroplane characteristics combined, in a most unfortunate way, to cause the accident," lead crash investigator Robert Benzon told the five-member safety board before the panel determined the accident's cause.

The airline and its pilots oppose placing blame on first officer Sten Molin, saying the Airbus flight control system was dangerously sensitive.

Flight 587 crashed into a residential area of Queens shortly after takeoff from John F. Kennedy Airport on November 12, 2001. Coming just two months after the September 11 hijack attacks, the crash immediately stoked fears of sabotage. The board rejected that scenario at the time and investigators did not conclude differently yesterday.

The safety board recommended the Federal Aviation Administration revise standards for the design of aircraft rudder controls on all planes. The board also wants the FAA to consider whether rudders on Airbus A300-600 and A310 aircraft should be modified. That could cover up to 500 passenger and cargo planes worldwide.

Airbus said it was surprised by the board's concern about the aircraft's rudder system. "We do not believe the facts of the investigation point to sensitivity of the rudder as contributing to the accident," said company spokesman Clay McConnell.

American Airlines, the world's biggest airline, is a unit of AMR and Airbus is the world's biggest commercial aircraft maker and is owned by European aerospace group EADS.

American and Airbus have waged a bitter finger-pointing campaign over liability for the crash of the flight bound for the Dominican Republic.

Co-pilot Molin activated multiple full rudder swings in an attempt to control the plane after a buffeting by turbulence from a jumbo jet flying ahead.

The A300 fish-tailed before sliding sideways in the air, the build-up of side forces causing the tail fin to break at the point where it joined the fuselage.

Benzon's team of investigators concluded Molin should not have used the rudder and other flight controls the way he did after a second wave of turbulence. The board concluded the action was "unnecessary and excessive".

Investigators said American's pilot training programme before the crash encouraged rudder use to regain control of an aircraft during serious in-flight disturbances. American has since changed its training guidance.

Investigators also found the A300-600 rudder system could be too sensitive.

"We don't believe you can blame the pilot," American spokesman Bruce Hicks said.

American charges Airbus knew there were potential problems with the rudder system after an in-flight incident involving another American A300 in 1997.

- REUTERS

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