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Voice Recorder Recovered, Search for Final 2 Victims Called Off

February 9, 1989

VILA DO PORTO, Azores Islands (AP) _ Authorities on Thursday found the cockpit voice recorder of a chartered U.S. jetliner that slammed into a mountain and killed all 144 people aboard, and they recovered the remains of all but two of the dead.

Rescuers called off the search for the two bodies still missing, saying it would be impossible to find them on the heavily forested slopes of Pico Alto mountain where the jet crashed Wednesday.

Antonio Alves of the Civilian Aviation Authority said it was hoped the recorder would help explain why the pilot steered the Boeing 707 directly into the mountain while trying to land in a fog. The seven-member American crew and the 137 passengers - Italian tourists headed to a Caribbean vacation - were killed.

In Lisbon, Cmdr. Jose Pastor of the aviation authority said the pilot, Capt. Leon Daugherty, had acknowledged the airport control tower’s authorization of a safety altitude of 3,000 feet during the landing approach.

Pastor said the plane struck the mountain at an altitude of about 1,700 feet.

″There was no - repeat no - communication of an emergency landing request by the pilot,″ he said. Earlier reports indicated the pilot may have asked to make an emergency landing.

Alves said it appeared the aircraft had been on the proper course to land. It was to refuel on Santa Maria island before continuing on to the Dominican Republic.

Alves said the cockpit voice recorder had been recovered, but the flight data recorder, which contains information on the aircraft’s flight parameters, had not yet been found.

Jose Martins Freitas, head of the Azores rescue service, said he didn’t believe it was possible to find anything more remains at the crash site on the slippery, dense slopes of the 1,794-foot Pico Alto, the highest point on the island. Rescuers found 50 bodies on Wednesday.

The smell of oil hung in the damp air, and a light rain fell on debris that included playing cards, a book of fairy tales and vacation clothing, still neatly folded.

Members of a six-man team from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, including representatives of Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration, were expected to arrive to help with the investigation.

The jet was owned by Independent Air Corp. of Smyrna Tenn., which was expected to send representatives to Lisbon for talks with aviation officials.

The 20-year-old jetliner had a relatively low number of flight hours and no history of serious problems, company president A.L. Pittman said. The craft, one of two Boeing 707s the company owned, had logged 12,500 cycles, or takeoffs and landings, and fewer than 50,000 hours in the air.

Jack Barker, a spokesman for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, agreed the figures were not excessive. He said Independent Air was fined $18,000 in an FAA enforcement action in 1984, but he said it was not possible to learn why immediately.

The mayor of Vila do Porto, Jose Humberto Chaves, said the FAA checks the airport, used primarily as a mid-Atlantic refueling stop, every six months and that an average of three flights a day stop there. Santa Maria is about 750 miles from the Portuguese mainland.

The airport, reportedly the largest in the Azores, has no radar but uses an instrument landing system to guide pilots.

The remains of the dead were being moved from a makeshift hanger at the airport to freezers at a food processing plant in Vila do Porto to await the arrival of an Italian Air Force C-130 transport plane carrying coffins from Pisa, Italian investigating magistrate Andrea Vardano said.

There was no immediate information on the identification of the remains of the crew members or when they would be transferred to the United States.

The seven crew members were identified as: Daugherty, 41, of Nashville, Tenn; Sammy Adcock, 36, of Nashville, 1st officer; Jorge Gonzalez, 34, Rex, Ga., the flight engineer; and flight attendants Yvette Murray, 26, of Marietta, Ga., Angela Urban, 24, West Palm Beach, Fla.; Helen Ziegler, 45, Warner Robins, Ga. and Sabrina Cromarty, of Atlanta.

Italian Embassy secretary Anna d’Angelo said a memorial service for victims was scheduled Sunday in Lisbon.

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