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Investigators Say All Four Engines Halted Before Avianca Crash With AM-Flight Reconstruction,

January 28, 1990

Investigators Say All Four Engines Halted Before Avianca Crash With AM-Flight Reconstruction, Bjt

COVE NECK, N.Y. (AP) _ Investigators confirmed Saturday that none of the four engines was running when Avianca Flight 52 crashed into a hillside, killing 73 of the 159 people on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board had reported earlier that three of the four engines weren’t running. The fourth was dug out of the mud by workers Saturday.

NTSB spokesman Lee Dickinson also said Saturday that the jetliner’s crew expressed concern to air traffic controllers that the plane was low on fuel 45 to 50 minutes before it crashed, and the Boeing 707 was kept in holding patterns for nearly 90 minutes.

However, it was unclear whether the plane had been put into any of three separate holding patterns before or after the crew complained of low fuel, Dickinson said.

The NTSB previously reported that the crew had expressed concerns about low fuel just 30 minutes before the crash, and that the plane had been kept in holding patterns for about 45 minutes. The revised estimates came after investigators interviewed air traffic controllers, Dickinson said at the news conference at a hotel in nearby Melville.

Earlier in the day, Dickinson spoke at a briefing at the wooded accident site, where investigators painstakingly examined the wreckage, focusing especially on the broken plane’s fuel tanks, lines and gauges. The

″We did a quick, cursory inspection and there was no power on these engines when the accident did occur,″ he said.

Investigators determined the engines were not rotating because debris inside of them had not been chewed up, he said. Fan blades in the engine did not show damage that would have indicated a working motor, he added.

Residents in the affluent Long Island north shore neighborhood reported that the plane made no sound until it hit the trees Thursday night. The crew had radioed that it was low on fuel shortly before the crash, and there was no explosion upon impact.

The absence of an explosion saved lives, authorities said. Most of the 86 survivors remained hospitalized Saturday, at least 29 of them in critical condition. One person who survived the crash died Saturday, said Nassau County Police spokesman Peter Franzone, but he had no details.

The number of people aboard was revised from 161 to 159 when discrepancies were settled among flight lists and patient counts, Dickinson said.

Dickinson said it is still unknown how long it was from the time the engines lost power to impact.

The plane had aborted its first landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport when an automatic warning device in the cockpit said it was dropping too fast and at the wrong angle. Among factors under study, Dickinson said, was whether the aborted landing affected the plane’s fuel system.

In Bogota, a veteran Avianca pilot, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that when a 707 is low on fuel, a steep climb after an aborted landing may force the fuel away from its engines, causing them to stall.

Boeing spokesman Tom Cole said Saturday he did not know if that was the case. However, he said: ″Just on the face of it you wouldn’t design an airplane like that because you have to make go-around attempts sometimes or take other avoidance measures.″

He said Boeing sent three investigators to the crash site, including a fuel expert.

The New York Times, quoting inidentified pilots, reported in Sunday’s editions that fuel gauges on 707s are often imprecise. Unlike newer planes, the 707 has no warning lights to indicate that the plane is running critically low on fuel. The Times said that the first warning light seen by the flight engineer would have been a low-oil pressure light, and by then, the engine would already have begun to flame out.

Cole, however, said that in his 25 years with Boeing, he had never heard of a problem with a fuel gauge on a 707.

Only one of the Boeing 707′s seven fuel tanks was intact, Dickinson said. Investigators will inspect the tanks to see if any fuel remained inside, he said.

The NTSB has said that indicators showed the plane had about 10,000 pounds of fuel, or nearly 1,500 gallons of the 23,855 gallons of fuel a 707 can carry.

Two fuel gauges indicated there were between 2,300 and 2,400 pounds in at least two tanks, but another gauge that measures fuel among all seven tanks showed a total of only 1,100 to 1,200 pounds of fuel, Dickinson said. It was not clear if those were accurate readings or whether the needles locked into that position on impact, he said.

″One of the things we have not been able to do is physically determine how much fuel was in each tank,″ he said.

The flight from Bogota and Medellin, Colombia, was making its second approach to land at Kennedy airport when it crashed 15 miles away shortly before 9:45 p.m. on a rainy, foggy night.

Because of bad-weather delays, the plane from Bogota and Medellin, Colombia, was put into a holding pattern for 89 minutes, two times by controllers in Norfolk, Va. - once for 16 minutes and a second time for 27 minutes - and finally 46 minutes some 40 miles south of Kennedy, Dickinson said.

Records were being checked in Colombia to see how much fuel was loaded in Medellin, he said.

After aborting its first landing attempt, the crew told air traffic controllers the plane was low on fuel. But the crew did not declare a fuel emergency, which would have given it landing priority, NTSB officials said Friday.

″I remember the plane making all kinds of noises after the pilot tried to land at the airport and didn’t make it,″ passenger Gloria Restrepo, who suffered fractured legs, said from her hospital bed. ″I was scared because it didn’t sound good. I knew something was wrong. Then all the lights went out.″

The cockpit crew members - including Capt. Laureano Caviedes, 52, a 28-year Avianca veteran - were killed in the crash.

An Avianca spokesman, Jaime Marriaga, said he would have no comment on the possible cause of the crash until its investigation was completed.

The 23-year-old plane had been sent to the maintenance shop 37 times in the past four months, the Colombian radio network RCN reported.

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