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Faulty Recorder Hampers Crash Probe

May 22, 2000

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) _ The cockpit voice recorder was not working before a charter plane crashed, killing all 19 people aboard, hampering federal officials as they worked today to figure out why both engines on the plane apparently failed.

The plane was carrying people back to Wilkes-Barre from a weekend trip to Atlantic City when it crashed Sunday.

National Transportation Safety Board member George Black said today that the voice recorder had an improper power supply and did not record any sounds in the cockpit. An inverter that would have allowed the device to operate on the plane’s power had not been installed, he said.

The plane also did not have the other type of ``black box″ recorder, the one that takes down flight data such as the plane’s speed and altitude. Such a device was not required for the model of airplane.

``This seriously hampers the investigation,″ Black said. ``This is somewhat disappointing, and we’re going to do the best we can without it.″

Earlier, Black said engines failing simultaneously is ``highly improbable″ and could indicate some sort of systems failure.

``We’ll be looking at fuel systems; we’ll be looking at ignition systems, the weather _ all of the variables that are associated with the operation of the engines,″ Black told CBS’s ``The Early Show.″

He had said that fuel contamination was a possible source of the plane’s two engines failing. But at his afternoon news conference, he said a preliminary test of the fuel from a truck in Farmingdale, N.Y., that had refueled the plane had found no evidence of contamination. Those tests were continuing and would include taking a ground sample from the crash site.

The Jetstream 31, owned by Executive Airlines of Farmingdale, crashed Sunday in a dense and remote northeastern Pennsylvania forest.

NTSB investigators were reviewing the transcript from air traffic controllers who spoke with the crew before the accident. The two pilots can be heard saying, ``we lost both engines.″

Black also said that investigators now know that pilots did not indicate there were engine troubles on their first approach to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. The plane crashed while attempting a second approach.

A trail of emergency vehicles and four-wheel drive trucks had to climb winding roads through the mist-shrouded Pocono Mountains to reach the site where the twin-engine plane went down.

The victims’ bodies were taken to a refrigerator truck that acted as a makeshift morgue until authorities can use dental records and information from families to begin identifying the remains.

The plane disappeared off radar during a second instrument approach about 11:40 a.m. Sunday, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Tammy Jones. Officials said the plane might have missed its first approach because of the weather.

``The weather was bad, it was windy and there was some precipitation. The visibility was poor,″ Jones said.

Michael Peragine, chief executive of Executive Airlines, said the pilot had 8,500 hours of flight time, including 4,000 hours on the type of plane that crashed, and the first officer was close to being upgraded to pilot.

``These were two expert pilots and the machine was maintained to the highest standards. You just don’t have a clue as to what could have possibly happened,″ Peragine said.

Burned and twisted wreckage from the plane _ carrying 17 passengers and two crew members _ was scattered across a swath of forest about nine miles south of the airport.

The group had been on an overnight gambling trip to Atlantic City, N.J., and the plane had been chartered by Caesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino. It’s not unusual for casinos to charter flights for their best customers.

The group was to return at 1:15 a.m. Sunday, but fog kept the plane grounded in Farmingdale, so they spent Saturday night at a hotel, officials said.

The victims were believed to be from the area around Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, a region surrounded by dense forests and pristine lakes, popular for camping and hunting. It’s about 90 miles north of Philadelphia and 150 miles northwest of Atlantic City.

Megan Maguire was outside gardening at her home near the airport when she heard a plane apparently having problems.

``I heard the engines die, then I heard them start up again, and then they just died. I heard it rev up twice, so it died twice,″ Maguire said.

Throughout the day Sunday, teary-eyed relatives and friends filed into the airport, where they received consolation from clergy and counselors.

``It’s a small, close community, and that’s what I think makes it so hard,″ said Lackawanna County Commissioner Randy Castellani.

Debra Maleski lost her mother, Nancy Maleski, 66, and sister Elaine Pilosi, 46, on the flight, which she said the casino chartered every other weekend.

``They just went for an evening of fun and excitement; they played the slots,″ Maleski said. ``They didn’t like to fly, either one of them.″

In the 1990s, there were three crashes of similar model airplanes. The last came in December 1994 at the Raleigh-Durham airport in North Carolina, killing 15 of 20 people aboard.

Sunday’s crash appeared to be the worst in Pennsylvania since 1994, when a USAir 737 crashed near Pittsburgh, killing all 132 people aboard.


On the Net:

Federal Aviation Administration: http://www.faa.gov

Jetstream: http://www.bae.regional.co.uk/inservice_jetstream31.htm

Executive Airlines: http://www.executiveairlines.com

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