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New ship joins TWA search


Weather hampers progress

July 31, 1996
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EDT

SMITHTOWN, New York (CNN) -- Wednesday was not a good day for divers searching the Atlantic Ocean for bodies and wreckage from TWA Flight 800.

Thunderstorms and high winds forced divers out of the water by 6 a.m. EDT. Only remote-controlled vehicles remained in the ocean for most of the day, trying to help investigators decide how to raise large pieces of debris to the surface.

Despite the bad weather, divers were able to retrieve the bodies of 10 more victims. Of the 230 people killed, 184 bodies have been recovered and 175 identified. National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Robert Francis said he has told victims' families not to be too optimistic that divers can keep up their pace of recovery.

"It's not realistic to think that we're going to recover every single person who was on that airplane," Francis said.

The USS Grapple, one of the Navy's top two search-and-salvage vessels, began searching the waters off Long Island Wednesday to help crack the two-week-old case.

Investigators hope remote-controlled cameras and divers working 100 feet below the water's surface will be able to find more bodies as well as wreckage to confirm or disprove the theory that a bomb in the front cargo hold blew off the nose of the Boeing 747 on July 17. All aboard died.

The search area "looks like a junkyard," New York State Police diver Nelson Saldana told CNN Wednesday during a live interview. "It's pretty grim." (128K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

Reassembling the aircraft

The Grapple is the sister ship of the USS Grasp, which the Navy initially brought in to help with the search. The Grapple is anchored in an area where the front landing gear and some first class seats were found. The ship can raise loads of up to 13,000 pounds.

Pieces of the jumbo jet are being taken to Calverton, New York, where structural engineers are trying to put the plane back together. The work -- which continues 24 hours a day -- is done in a hangar where the Grumman Company once assembled Navy F-14 jet fighters

Investigators hope to place some of the plane's 6 million pieces side by side so they can study the sequence of the explosion. About half the pieces have ink stamps identifying their location on the plane.

Correspondent Christine Negroni contributed to this report.
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