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Relatives’ Attorneys Want Tape of Final Cockpit Conversations

August 10, 1996

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Relatives suing over the still-unexplained crash of a USAir jet two years ago are being blocked from obtaining crucial evidence, including a tape of the final cockpit conversations, attorneys said Friday.

They argued in federal court for the release of an unedited copy of the tape from Flight 427, just before the Boeing 737 plunged into a hillside on approach to Pittsburgh International Airport, killing all 132 people aboard Sept. 8, 1994.

``The one group of people who need the information the most are the ones who are being shut out _ the relatives of the victims,″ said attorney Jerry Skinner.

The resolution of cases against USAir has been complicated by the lack of a definite cause of the crash, the nation’s second-deadliest unsolved air disaster behind the recent explosion of TWA Flight 800.

USAir attorney Mark Dombroff told Judge William Standish that the airline had no authority to provide the tape, since it is being kept by the National Transportation Safety Board.

David Bass, a safety board attorney in Washington, D.C., said the judge could listen to the tape to see if a fair trial is possible without it.

Standish gave no indication Friday how he would rule on the tape.

An edited transcript of the tape released last year indicated all was well until just seconds before the crash. Then, a series of unexplained clicks and thumps were heard, as well as exclamations of ``Oh God, Oh God″ as the pilots struggled to regain control of the plane.

Also sought by relatives’ attorneys are 26 USAir documents which Dombroff said were addressed to airline attorneys and therefore protected as legal communications. The relatives’ attorneys believe that could be a ruse.

Among the documents are memos from Daryl Hartzell, a USAir maintenance supervisor who was instrumental in assembling the wreckage. Hartzell could provide information about the plane’s rudder, which has received considerable scrutiny as a possible cause of the abrupt leftward movement of the plane.

Other documents include criticisms by USAir officials of USAir flight training, Skinner said.

Standish said he would rule on the request for documents after he reviews them in private.

So far, USAir has settled with relatives of 78 of the people on the plane, including some who did not sue, Dombroff said. Forty-one cases are still pending.

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