Aviation experts seek second 'black box' from lost jet
February 3, 2000
From staff and wire reports
PORT HUENEME, California (CNN) -- Investigators turned their attention Thursday to finding the flight data recorder from Alaska Airlines Flight 261 -- the second of two "black boxes" on the plane -- after locating the plane's cockpit voice recorder Wednesday.
Searchers found the cockpit voice recorder Wednesday evening using an unmanned submersible, hours after they gave up hope of finding survivors. The salvage ship that carried the probe detected a second signal early Thursday, believed to be from the flight data recorder.
The voice recorder, found in 700 feet of water, appeared to be in good shape, U.S. Navy Capt. Terry Labrecque said late Wednesday.
"We've been lucky off the bat," Labrecque said. "I hope this continues. It's my fondest hope."
The twin-engine MD-83 jetliner crashed Monday off the California coast northwest of Los Angeles. Authorities said Wednesday that all 83 passengers and five crew members aboard are now presumed dead.
The plane was en route to San Francisco from the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta when pilots reported trouble with the aircraft's horizontal stabilizer, which controls the plane's pitch up and down. They were trying to land the jet in Los Angeles when the plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
The position of the stabilizer is among the 48 pieces of information the jet's flight data recorder is programmed to record, NTSB spokesman John Hammerschmidt said.
NTSB to question crew of previous flight
Thursday morning, investigators will question the pilots who flew the plane to Puerto Vallarta, NTSB spokesman John Hammerschmidt said.
The Seattle Times reported there were problems with the horizontal stabilizer on the flight to Mexico, but Alaska Airlines spokesman Jack Evans in Seattle denied the report.
"We stand by what we said earlier this week, which is that we're not aware of any maintenance anomalies with this aircraft," Evans said.
One witness on the ground and three in other aircraft saw the plane go down, Hammerschmidt said.
"All three pilots used terms to describe the descent of the accident aircraft ... as tumbling, spinning, nose-down, continuous roll, corkscrewing and inverted flight," he said.
The witnesses said the plane appeared intact as it plunged from more than 17,000 feet to the surface, and none saw any smoke, fire or flames, he said.
Drew Gottshall, 45, a Channel Islands National Park worker, said he heard the jet, looked up and watched it slam into the water 2 1/2 miles to the north of Anacapa Island -- about 11 miles off Point Mugu, California.
"The plane made a quick entry into the water upon impact and disappeared," Gottshall said in a statement released by the park service.
Another witness, who was taking pictures between eight and nine miles from the crash site, captured the plane's descent on film, Hammerschmidt said.
Relatives to view crash site
The voice recorder's discovery came as Coast Guard and Navy ships combed a debris field 10 miles offshore Wednesday, finding only tiny, twisted pieces of wreckage.
The cockpit voice recorder will be quickly taken to the NTSB's Washington laboratories, where investigators will listen to and transcribe the 30 minutes of tape. The NTSB is also studying recordings from radar stations along the West Coast, and tapes of conversations between Alaska Airlines' ground crews in Los Angeles before the crash.
More than 100 grieving relatives gathered at a Los Angeles hotel where the airline and Red Cross offered grief counseling. Officials plan to take the family members to a private viewing of the crash site Thursday.
"I have visions of what it may have been like on the airplane constantly from the time that they knew there was trouble to the time of impact," said Gregory Ford, who lost five loved ones board the plane.
"I have a hard time understanding, believing what actually happened."
Correspondent Carl Rochelle contributed to this report.
Cockpit voice recorder from Alaska Airlines Flight 261 recovered
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