NTSB shuts down the field office in ValuJet crash

June 27, 1996
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EDT

MIAMI (CNN) -- Long hours in the field in Miami will now give way to long hours in Washington for the National Transportation Safety Board team working to unravel the mystery behind the crash of ValuJet Flight 592.

The NTSB announced Thursday it was closing down its field investigation of the crash of ValuJet Flight 592 and will conduct the rest of its work from Washington.

"We feel that we've probably got now what we need, and hopefully won't have to come back to this," said Robert Francis, NTSB vice chairman. "We are confident we will find a cause to this crash."

NTSB investigators provided reporters more details of the crash. Portions of the flight's voice cockpit recording were released to the media, and reporters were shown the plane wreckage during a Miami briefing.

FAA releases ValuJet
air traffic control tapes

The remains of the DC-9 -- twisted, mangled and melted wreckage -- were stored in a hangar at the Tamiami Airport while investigators tried to piece them together and study them for clues about the cause of the accident that killed all 110 people aboard. (NTSB investigator Greg Feith describes how the plane parts were arranged. 136K AIFF or WAV sound)

"It emphasizes the enormous forces that were; when this aircraft hit it basically shattered everything," Francis said. Investigators say the force of the impact was incredible, making the recovery of 75 percent of the airplane remarkable.

The DC-9 crashed into the Florida Everglades May 11, scattering debris and human remains over a wide area. Francis said he had never seen such a labor-intensive operation. Ninety percent of the wreckage was pulled out of the muck by hand, he said.

Forward cargo hold reconstructed

The information collected so far, along with the melted debris shown at the Miami briefing, provides evidence of an intense fire on board the plane. There is widespread speculation that oxygen generators in the cargo hold either caused or contributed to the fire. Although 20 of the generators were found, their role in the accident is not yet known.

All evidence, investigators say, continues to point to a fire in the forward cargo hold, which they have finally reconstructed. A piece of breaker panel without smoke damage has, for now, ruled out a cockpit fire.

NTSB investigator Greg Feith pointed out a piece of debris that made a case for a raging fire below the passengers: a seat frame, part of which was warped and melted.

"This has been exposed to very high heat, probably on the order of 1,000 to 1,100 degrees in order to melt this," Feith said. "This is a seat frame; that means the fire had to have propagated from the lower part in the cargo hold up into the cabin itself."

Public hearings on the crash will be held in Miami in the fall, followed by a final report in early 1997.

Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella contributed to this report.

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