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Recovery Efforts Difficult, Lengthy Probe Seen

November 16, 1990

ZURICH, Switzerland (AP) _ Authorities investigating a jetliner crash that killed all 46 people aboard, including seven Americans, say it could be several months before the cause of the disaster is fully known.

Officials Thursday cited pilot error and technical failure as possible causes of the Wednesday night crash as the Alitalia DC-9 approached Zurich international airport en route from Milan, Italy.

Radar data showed the plane was flying about 990 feet too low, Alitalia and Swiss officials said there was no explanation yet for the low altitude.

Zurich airport spokesman Andreas Meier said radar data ″suggest the pilot misjudged his altitude.″

Alitalia officials on Italian television speculated the plane’s electronic navigation system failed.

Swiss transporation department spokesman Ulrich Sieber said investigators may need several months to compile and publish their report on the inquiry.

At least seven Americans were aboard the plane, according to the airline and U.S. Embassy officials.

The embassy in Bern identified the American victims as Karol Forman, Paul Vaughan and William Briggs of New York state; John Stuckey and Jerry Bass of North Carolina; Robert Anderson, an American resident of Switzerland, and Stephen Ritter of North Carolina. No hometowns were given.

The embassy had no further details early today.

The nationalities of four victims were still undetermined, the airline said.

Pope John Paul II offered condolences to the victims’ families.

The plane crashed into a steep wooded hillside, broke up and was gutted by fire. Zurich police official Eugen Thomann said all victims likely died on impact.

Witnesses said the pilot seemed to gun the plane’s engines just before impact about 12 1/2 miles northeast of central Zurich. Some witnesses reported seeing fire and hearing explosions while the plane was still in the air.

Rain on Thursday hampered investigators inspecting the debris. About 300 rescue and police officials recovered bodies and cleaned up.

Since victims were burned beyond recognition, positive identification could take weeks, Zurich police spokesman Hansrudolf Suter said.

Police said the the jet’s two flight recorders, or ″black boxes,″ were found Thursday and will be sent to an English lab for evaluation. One recorder tracks flight data and the other tapes cockpit conversation.

Meier said terrorism was not ruled out, but stressed there was no immediate indication the plane was a target.

Alitalia said the two-engine DC-9, built in 1974, was last inspected 10 days before the crash.

Update hourly