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Officials say engine broke up

The American Airlines jet that crashed in New York Monday lost all or part of an engine in flight, and investigators said preliminary evidence pointed strongly toward mechanical failure rather than terrorism as the cause. Federal investigators already suspected the engines were unsafe.

The Federal Aviation Administration warned just last month that its own study of problems with the family of CF6 General Electric engines on the plane indicate a need for tougher, mandatory inspections of possibly worn parts. The FAA, which set a 60-day period for industry feedback that was to end Dec. 4, called the current risk an "unsafe condition" that could damage an airplane.

The NTSB warned separately less than a year ago that a failure in flight of these engines, which could send hot metal fragments tearing through important control systems or fuel lines, could cause a plane to crash.

George Black, an NTSB board member, cautioned it was "way too early" to connect Monday's crash with engine failures.

The plane went through a routine maintenance check overnight Sunday, and investigators were checking who had access to the plane during those hours.

Investigators also were combing eyewitnesses accounts of the crash.

The plane carried 260 people to their deaths, and wreckage set several homes on fire in Queens. General Electric Aircraft Engines, the Cincinnati-based subsidiary of General Electric Co., sent two experts to the crash site. GE manufactured the CF6-80C2 jet engines, also used on Air Force One, that were mounted on the underside of each wing of the doomed flight.

GE spokesman Rick Kennedy called the CF6 engines "phenomenally reliable," and he said American had completed all the mandated inspections and repairs.

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