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Relatives View Ark. Jet Crash Site

June 4, 1999

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Federal investigators in the crash of American Airlines Flight 1420 visited a hospital Friday to interview injured passengers, while survivors and victims’ relatives went to the end of a runway to see the plane’s burned-out shell.

The National Transportation Safety Board wants to know what passengers saw, heard and smelled before and during the crash, which killed nine people, including the pilot. Among those on the interview list was the plane’s first officer, Michael Origel, who broke his leg.

``We’re going to get to as many people as we can get to now. Those who are in too bad a state, we’ll come back and get them,″ said Robert Malloy of the NTSB.

As investigators talked to survivors at University Hospital, eight charter buses drove down a Little Rock airport runway to the crash site. Survivors and relatives were given red and pink roses as they got off the buses. Some laid the flowers on a memorial made of hay bales.

They looked down on the crumpled MD-82 from a grassy hill at the end of the runway where the jet skidded in a thunderstorm Tuesday night, crashed into a metal walkway and caught fire.

``There were tears. People as a group kind of consoled each other,″ said Jimmy Manus, whose wife and their two daughters survived the crash. ``They were glad they made the trip today.″

Some hugged each other and held hands as they looked at the wreckage. Several wore neck braces, including one man in a wheelchair.

``One woman broke down on her hands and knees. I was one of the crying ones. It was difficult, surprisingly difficult,″ said Jim Yates, a free-lance photographer who sometimes works for The Associated Press. His girlfriend had been on the plane. She chose not be there Friday.

About 100 investigators are trying to determine whether the pilot or the plane is to blame for mechanical quirks during the crash.

A flight data recorder indicates that the spoilers _ movable panels on the top of the wing _ did not open as usual to help slow down the plane. Also, the thrust reversers twice turned on and off, rather than remaining on until the plane slowed, said George Black of the NTSB.

The jet landed just as a thunderstorm with hail and 75 mph gusts reached the airport. Investigators said the pilot was warned twice about dangerous wind shears and received more notice than usual of bad conditions as he brought the plane in.

Black said the pilot could have had better information if the air traffic control tower had access to Doppler radar.

``The only radar available for weather to the tower controller who was handling this flight was his surveillance radar _ the same radar he was using to control the airplanes,″ Black said. ``In other words, he did not have the advantage of the same sort of thing you and I can call up on our computer on the Internet and look at live Doppler radar.″

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