Byline: ANDY LINES, US Editor in New York
IT was a cry of anguish for a fearful city that has suffered so much and was now reeling in disbelief at a second tragedy.
Seconds after learning an American Airlines Airbus had plunged into a New York suburb yesterday killing all 260 aboard, city Mayor Rudolph Giuliani could only gasp in despair: "Oh, my God. Oh, my God."
It was almost two months to the exact day and time since two hijacked Boeing 767s - one of them owned by American Airlines - hit the city's World Trade Center killing nearly 5,000 people.
With fears of a new terror blitz piling on top of a nationwide anthrax scare F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to guard the skies above the city. Airports, bridges and tunnels were closed.
Last night, with up to eight feared dead and 35 hurt on the ground, the White House said it could not rule out a terrorist bomb.
But the National Transportation Safety Board, FBI and Secretary of State Colin Powell said first evidence suggested an accident.
It was believed the pilot, who was apparently in difficulties, had dumped fuel before crashing. There was no "unusual" cockpit communication between the crew.
The combination of time, place and airline could have been no more than hideous coincidence.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who is in New York, said: "We don't think it's a terrorist outrage. That's no comfort for families of victims but it's reassuring for New York."
One of the aircraft's black-box recorders was recovered.
Investigators are now reviewing all intelligence for any clues to a terror attack as well as checking the passenger list for suspects.
As rescuers toiled once again in blazing rubble and New Yorkers wept in the streets, outgoing Mayor Giuliani went to the scene.
He said later: "We were lucky. It could have been far worse.
"The plane came down in one small area, as opposed to hitting a number of homes. We're being tested again. We'll pass this test as we've passed the others."
President Bush - standing alongside former South African president Nelson Mandela who was visiting the White House - said: "It was heartbreaking to speak to my friend Mayor Giuliani and once again express my sympathies.
"The New York people have suffered mightily. They suffer again. But they are a strong people."
Flight AA587 carrying 251 passengers and nine crew to the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean crashed at 9.17am (2.17pm GMT) three minutes after taking off from the city's JFK airport.
The 13-year-old plane took off more than an hour late due to a "technical fault". Engines of the type used on the jet have had a history of problems, including cracking that can lead to catastrophic failure.
One witness told how the doomed aircraft had difficulty in gaining height and banked strangely as if it was trying to turn back.
There were reports of an explosion before the plane crashed. Other witnesses said they saw an engine and a section of wing fall from the fuselage before it spiralled to doom.
The Airbus hit the ground in the densely populated Rockaway Beach area of Queens in a fireball that destroyed at least four houses and damaged up to 40 more. …