2nd Swissair Black Box Likely Heard
Sep. 07, 1998
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) _ The Canadian navy said today it is confident it has detected the signal from Swissair Flight 111's second black box, the cockpit voice recorder.
The signal was picked up by submarine H.M.C.S. Okanagan today, said navy spokesman Sean Kelly.
The transmitter on the so-called black box can sometimes become detached, so that the signal may not necessarily lead to the cockpit voice recorder itself.
The voice recorder would reveal other noises in the cockpit in addition to the already available conversation with controllers.
Divers working in 190-foot waters recovered the plane's other black box, the flight data recorder, on Sunday, in the first major breakthrough for crash investigators trying to determine why the MD-11 jetliner plunged into the sea off the coast of the fishing village of Peggy's Cove Wednesday night, killing all 229 people on board.
The flight data recorder was flown to a laboratory in Ottawa where it will be examined today. If it's in good condition, it would provide more than 100 types of technical data that could help explain why the plane's cockpit filled with smoke and why the pilots' emergency conversation with traffic controllers was cut off six minutes before the crash.
Divers also were trying to confirm that three large pieces of wreckage found near the flight data recorder are sections of the plane's fuselage.
``Some of them are squashed. It's in very poor shape, but it is visible and it looks like an aircraft fuselage,'' said Capt. Phil Webster, a navy spokesman.
Though officials have declined to give an updated figure of how many bodies have been recovered, they have indicated that most remain in the sea. Recovery of the fuselage could also lead to recovery of many more bodies, officials said.
A U.S. Navy rescue and salvage ship embarked Sunday from Philadelphia to assist in the possible recovery of large aircraft part.
The USS Grapple, which assisted in the deep-sea investigation of the TWA Flight 800 crash in July 1996, carries equipment capable of lifting 300 tons, plus more than 30 divers. It is expected to reach Nova Scotia on Wednesday.
The Swissair plane, about an hour into its flight from Kennedy International Airport to Geneva, crashed 16 minutes after the pilots reported smoke in the cockpit and decided to attempt an emergency landing. The plane started toward the Halifax airport, but made two sharp turns as it tried to descend and dump fuel.
In Zurich, Switzerland, Swissair officials said they had reconstructed the final phase of the flight, based on information from Canadian investigators. They said the plane couldn't have made a direct approach to Halifax from where it made the first distress call because it was flying too high and was too heavy with 30 tons of fuel meant for the Europe crossing.
The call was made 70 miles out of Halifax, but the pilots would have needed 130 miles to make a direct landing, Swissair's chief pilot, Rainer Hiltebrand, said. However, he said attempting to land in Halifax was still better than trying for Boston, which the pilots initially suggested to controllers.
Alan Wolk, a U.S. pilot and aviation lawyer, said in a statement Sunday that Flight 111's pilot, Urs Zimmermann, showed an initial lack of urgency and should have begun an emergency descent sooner.
``The MD-11 could have been landed overweight without difficulty,'' Wolk said. ``We have learned from aircraft fires historically that the only procedure that has a prayer of avoiding an accident is the quickest possible descent and landing.''
At a military air base outside Halifax, pathologists continued the grim and technically difficult task of trying to identify the badly fragmented human remains that have been retrieved from the crash site thus far. Among the dead were 131 Americans and two Canadians.
Dr. John Butt, Nova Scotia's chief medical examiner, said he has been groping for gentle ways to convey to the victims' families that few of them will take possession of mostly intact bodies.
Butt also said he had been seeking advice from the medical officials who handled body identification after the crash of TWA Flight 800 off the south shore of New York's Long Island. Asked to compare the state of the bodies in the two crashes, Butt replied, ``This is much more difficult.''