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Flight Data Recorder

TWA 'black boxes' found

July 25, 1996
Web posted at: 1:00 a.m. EDT

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The cockpit voice and flight data recorders for TWA Flight 800 have been found in the Atlantic Ocean in the first major breakthrough in the investigation of the explosion that left 230 people dead.

The "black boxes" -- which actually are orange -- are considered crucial in helping determine the cause of the fatal crash. They contain what the cockpit crew said in the final moments of Flight 800 as well as instrument readings -- whether engines quit and how rapidly the plane lost altitude, for example. The recorders, found amid a pile of debris with the help of a robotic camera, were to be taken to Washington for analysis.


The news came after investigators announced Wednesday night that they were turning to cutting-edge technology to locate and retrieve more bodies. CNN also learned that pieces of metal were found in some victims.

However, it was not known whether the metal fragments were from Flight 800 or from an explosive device, a source told CNN Wednesday, requesting anonymity. The source said medical examiners disclosed the information in their "end-of-the-day briefing" on Long Island.

Asked about the report, FBI Special Agent Jim Kallstrom said investigators have believed for some time that there was an explosion on the Boeing 747, but won't speculate on what may have happened. Kallstrom would not comment on what might have been found in autopsies.

All 230 people aboard the flight from New York to Paris died July 17 when the jumbo jet exploded over the Atlantic Ocean shortly after taking off from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Searchers announced Wednesday that they have found more than half of the bodies off Long Island. Three victims were pulled from the submerged wreckage Wednesday, bringing to 114 the number of victims recovered.

Lasers to speed search


Another seven bodies were spotted underwater but had not yet been retrieved, Robert Francis, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference Wednesday night.

Of the 114 bodies, 95 were positively identified and 94 families had been notified. Twelve more bodies were tentatively identified.

Francis said divers planned to bring the seven bodies out of the water on Thursday. They were found outside of the investigation's main search area, where the bulk of the plane's wreckage was located using sonar.

Investigators are now turning to a "laser-line scanner," an experimental device being developed by Oceaneering Corp. The scanner uses a blue-green laser that shoots a beam into a prism, then reflects it to the bottom of the water. The beam's reflection is captured into a second prism, removing most of the interference sonar scanners usually capture.

As a result, Navy Adm. Edward Kristensen said, people using the tool could get an almost TV-quality black-and-white picture from the bottom of the Atlantic. It will hopefully help divers tell the difference between wreckage and bodies, making their retrieval go more quickly.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, said Wednesday that FBI Director Louis Freeh told senators that of the 72 bodies examined for carbon monoxide inhalation, none had inhaled enough to detect.

Carbon monoxide inhalation is one indicator of whether there was a fire on board long enough for passengers to inhale the potentially fatal gas.

"The lack of carbon monoxide discloses only that there was no fire long enough to have gotten into the respiratory systems of the people who were so tested," Specter said. "It doesn't say anything else."

Francis also said Wednesday that search teams detected a 45-foot-high piece of wreckage using side-scanning sonar. Whether it is an actual piece of the plane, or a pile of assorted wreckage, is not yet known, he said.

NTSB to be main source

'Francis also said in a statement that from now on,

The decision was made after several government officials, including New York Gov. George Pataki, gave out information on the search for victims and later had to retract some statements.


Francis said the furor was "most unfortunate," and that there obviously had been "some bad miscommunication."

He complimented Pataki for some positive contributions he has made, including resolving problems with the medical examiner's office and sponsoring a memorial service on the beach.

"I am interested in looking ahead, not back, I'm not interested in assessing blame," Francis said. "We're all part of a team and we're going to solve this tragic situation and we're going to recover the victims."

Correspondent Gary Tuchman and reporter Jim Slade contributed to this report.
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