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Cargo plane crew got stall warning before crash, NTSB says

August 9, 1997

MIAMI (AP) _ Alarms sounded, warning pilots that their cargo plane was too low and going too slow to stay aloft before the DC-8 crashed and sent burning wreckage across a crowded business district, investigators found.

An early analysis of the cockpit voice recorder Friday indicated separate systems warned the crew they could stall and were dangerously close to the ground, said Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane rose too steeply on takeoff to keep flying, NTSB spokesman Pat Cariseo said. ``We know that happened and now we have to figure out the why part,″ he said.

Officials with the NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration said they were looking at whether the 29-year-old plane may have been overloaded with cargo and extra fuel, whether the cargo shifted during takeoff, and at mechanical problems or pilot error.

The plane rolled a long time on the runway, struggled into the sky with its nose at an 85-degree angle and then plummeted to the ground tail first Thursday.

Three bodies found after the crash were believed to be crew members. A body was found Friday in a charred car, the first known victim to be killed on the ground. A fourth person on the plane was presumed dead, and two people believed to be in the vicinity of the crash were reported missing.

Authorities said none of the four bodies found so far have been identified because they were so badly charred.

The plane, operated by Fine Air Services, was headed for the Dominican Republic with 80,000 pounds of fabric for Levi’s dress slacks.

A flight data recorder recovered from the wreckage did not fully measure data it was supposed to, a common problem among older planes, said Robert Benzon, NTSB’s lead investigator.

But the cockpit voice recorder indicated that a device activated to warn of a dangerous slowing of the plane. In order to keep aloft, planes must maintain a certain speed or they will go into an aerodynamic stall, in which the wings don’t generate enough lift.

Initial signs indicate the engines flamed and that the last thing the crew heard were warnings that the plane was too low or about to hit something, Benzon said.

Luis Michaels, who was fired in 1995 for delaying flights by challenging Fine Air documentation, said company flights were frequently overloaded with cargo or fuel, The Miami Herald reported today. Four other pilots, who asked not to be identified, said planes were routinely overweighted.

The FAA revealed Friday that roughly half of Fine Air’s pilots face suspension for allegedly flying company DC-8s into two high-altitude airports in South America against regulations.

The suspensions were proposed in June and July after the alleged violations were discovered. The three crew members who died in Thursday’s crash were not among the 29 pilots cited, the FAA said.

The airline also said Friday it was scrapping its public stock offering from two days earlier. The action means all trades of the stock will be canceled and investors who bought shares will be reimbursed.

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