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Faulty Recorder Hampers Crash Probe

May 23, 2000

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP)_ With no ``black box″ data to analyze, federal investigators predicted a difficult task in determining the cause of a weekend plane crash that killed 19 people.

The charter airplane’s cockpit voice recorder is blank, said George Black, a National Transportation Safety Board investigator.

``There are no sounds from the cockpit on the tape,″ Black said. ``This seriously hampers the investigation, let’s face it.″

He said the recorder may have been specially modified to operate on the plane’s power source, a possibility that was still being checked.

The plane did not have the other type of ``black box″ recorder, the one that takes down flight data such as speed and altitude, because it was not required for the model of airplane, a Jetstream 31.

Everyone aboard were killed Sunday when the twin-engine turboprop crashed in the rain nine miles away from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. It was carrying passengers home from a gambling trip to Atlantic City, N.J.

Investigators will rely on the wreckage, witnesses, radar data and a conversation between the two pilots and air traffic controllers. The pilots said they had lost both engines as they made their second approach to the airport.

Aviation analysts said dual-engine failures are rare and can indicate a problem with the fuel supply. But Black said no evidence of contamination was found in a preliminary test of fuel from a truck that had refueled the plane.

The aircraft, a 19-seat, BA-31 Jetstream, was owned by Executive Airlines, a private charter company based in Farmingdale, N.Y. Company officials said they never had problems with the 12-year-old plane.

Investigators also said they were not ruling out human error, and that the plane could have been low on fuel. They were calculating how much fuel the plane would have needed to get from Farmingdale to Atlantic City and then to Wilkes-Barre, Black said.

Families of the 17 passengers peppered investigators with questions during a meeting with NTSB officials Monday evening. They were ``somber and stunned″ as officials indicated it would be some time before the cause of the crash was found, said Lackawanna County Commissioner Bob Cordaro.

``Now they understand that certain things will take days, not hours,″ said Cordaro.

Police escorted victims’ families to the airport fire station and shielded them from journalists. The Luzerne County coroner’s office refused to release the names of the victims Monday and authorities gave no indication of when the list would be released.

Meanwhile, nearby communities mourned.

Debra Maleski lost her mother, Nancy Maleski, 66, and sister Elaine Pilosi, 46, on the flight.

``They just went for an evening of fun and excitement; they played the slots,″ Maleski said. ``They didn’t like to fly, either one of them.″

Residents in the tight-knit communities near Wilkes-Barre were awaiting the list of passengers.

``If you don’t know somebody, you know someone who knows them,″ said Jerry Mancinelli of Dallas, Pa. ``Everybody in the valley is going to be touched.″


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