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No Survivors in Swissair Jet Crash

September 3, 1998

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) _ A flotilla of coast guard and fishing boats searching in the darkness early today found only bodies and debris from a Swissair jetliner that crashed off Nova Scotia, killing all 229 people aboard.

Swissair said there were no survivors from the Geneva-bound Flight 111, which plunged into the ocean Wednesday night after its pilot reported smoke in the cockpit and attempted an emergency landing at Halifax International Airport.

``About 30 miles south of the airport, the aircraft disappeared from radar screens,″ airline spokeswoman Beatrice Tschanz said at a news conference in Zurich, Switzerland.

At dawn, rescuers had recovered 18 bodies from the turbulent waters a few miles off Peggys Cove, a small fishing village and tourist retreat.

Philippe Bruggisser, the airline’s chief executive officer, told a news conference in Zurich the flight headed out over the Atlantic without incident but within minutes the Swiss pilot and co-pilot decided to head back after reporting problems on the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 plane.

The passengers were thought to be mostly Swiss, Tschanz said, though it was not immediately known how many Americans were on board.

One of the crew members was an American from Swissair partner Delta, Tschanz said. She didn’t identify him.

In Atlanta, Delta spokesman Bill Berry said the ``best information available″ was that 53 Delta passengers were on the flight, which the two airlines shared in a partnership.

The plane left New York’s Kennedy International Airport at 8:17 p.m. EDT with 215 passengers _ including two infants _ and 14 crew, said Philippe Roy, a Geneva airport spokesman.

Before the plane went down slightly more than an hour later, residents said they heard loud sputtering noises from an aircraft passing overhead and then a thundering crash. Dozens of ambulances were dispatched to the scene.

``The motors were still going, but it was the worst-sounding deep groan that I’ve ever heard,″ witness Claudia Zinck-Gilroy said about the plane.

Searchlights from coast guard cutters, fishing boats, helicopters and planes illuminated the area being searched, said witnesses, who reported seeing an oil slick, life preservers and other debris from the downed aircraft spread over a wide area of ocean.

The three-engine plane dumped fuel over nearby St. Margaret’s Bay before crashing, The Canadian Press quoted an airport worker as saying.

Debris from the aircraft was found off Clam Island and other islets between Peggys Cove and Blandford, about 20 miles southwest of Halifax.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike Considine of the Search and Rescue Center in Halifax said rescue crews were searching for the aircraft seven miles off Peggys Cove. Local fishermen were called to the area because they are familiar with the waters.

There were four rescue planes and four helicopters in the area, Canadian navy spokeswoman Tracy Simoneau said. A Canadian navy ship, the HMSC Preserver, also was on the scene.

``They are reporting that they have located debris, but they are unsure if it’s from the aircraft. They also report an oil slick and a strong smell of oil. They have not found the fuselage,″ Simoneau said.

She said civilian rescuers were at the scene within minutes of the crash.

Late Wednesday, police at Kennedy Airport would not allow reporters inside the Delta airlines terminal used by Swissair. Some relatives of people on board the flight were seen entering the airport.

In Geneva, the airport’s arrivals board said the Swissair plane, which was due to arrive at 9:30 a.m. local time, was ``delayed.″

In Washington, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Jamie Finch said the U.S. agency was in consultation with its counterparts in Canada and has offered any assistance. But he said it had not decided whether a U.S. team would be sent to the scene.

It was the first crash of a Swissair plane since Oct. 7, 1979, when one of its DC-8s overshot the runway in Athens, Greece, while attempting to land and burst into flames. Fourteen people were killed.

Speaking to reporters at the Geneva airport, Georges Schorderet, the chief financial officer of parent company SAirGroup, said the plane was put into service in August 1991 and was overhauled in August and September last year. It had been checked as all are before takeoff, he added.

``This airplane was in perfect working order,″ Schorderet said.

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