NTSB: No evidence of ValuJet engine fire

Oxygen canisters now 'issue number one'

May 16, 1996
Web posted at: 11 p.m. EDT


MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Two engines recovered from the wreckage of ValuJet Flight 592 in the Florida Everglades showed no evidence of fire, federal airline safety investigators said Thursday. The plane crashed in the swamp Saturday, killing all 110 people on board.

Investigators have theorized that a fire may have occurred before the plane went down. Several pieces airlifted from the crash site over the last few days have been smudged with soot.


Robert Francis, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told reporters investigators were still focusing on "issue number one" -- the DC-9's cargo shipment of oxygen canisters.

The generators are suspected in a possible explosion or fire because of the chemicals and the intense heat they generate when in use.

At a news conference, which investigators said would be the last briefing this week, Francis said the NTSB has formed a hazardous materials group to look into the 70-odd oxygen generators stored in the plane's forward cargo hold. So far, only one canister has been recovered from the wreckage.


NTSB lead investigator Greg Feith said shipping documents indicated that the canisters were empty. But he said they were still unable to verify whether all the oxygen generators had been safely discharged.

ValuJet was not authorized by the FAA to carry oxygen generators, since they are considered hazardous materials.

But even if they had been discharged, Feith said, a chemical by-product called barium salt -- also considered a hazardous material -- could remain in the canisters.

Highlights of the NTSB briefing

Important pieces still missing

Francis said that although investigators airlifted several large pieces from the wreckage Thursday, some important items, such as the engine fans, were still missing. The fans, he said, would help experts determine what kind of power was being generated by the engines at the time of the accident.

The other top priority, he said, is to try and recover the cockpit voice recorder, which should have captured the cockpit crew's conversation before the crash.

The Navy has already spent several days using high-tech sonar equipment to try to find the recorder, and Francis said experimental radar gear would be delivered to the crash scene on Monday to help in the search.

Earlier Thursday, ValuJet President Lewis Jordan Thursday said he did not "know for a fact" that the canisters were empty, as labeled.

"I am not saying that ValuJet is faultless. I am saying that I have seen no fault," said Jordan, who showed a copy of the paperwork indicating the canisters were empty.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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