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Fiery tests show probable cause for ValuJet nosedive

valujet.investigation November 7, 1996
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EST

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A simulation of the cargo hold fire that sent ValuJet Flight 592 plummeting into the Everglades suggests the blaze destroyed steering cables beneath the cockpit, making it impossible for the pilot to control the plane, a source close to the investigation told CNN.

The Atlanta-bound DC-9 crashed shortly after takeoff last May 11, killing all 110 people aboard. Tests using a cargo bay from a scrap jetliner similar to the jet were completed Thursday at a Federal Aviation Administration technical center in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.

In the doomed flight, fire erupted in the cargo bay six minutes after leaving Miami. Smoke and flames raced through the aircraft and, moments later, the plane nose-dived into the Everglades. Investigators believe oxygen canisters in the front cargo hold, below the cockpit, were improperly packed and wrongly marked "empty".

In this week's test, examiners set ablaze five boxes containing about 250 oxygen canisters swathed in bubble wrapper to determine how long it would take the fire to spread. They also burned three inflated tires similar to those stored in the cargo bay.

A source told CNN Thursday the fire was so hot -- well over 1,000 degrees -- and spread so fast that, if the same occurred in flight, there would have been nothing the pilots could do.

The source said the flames destroyed the steering cables above the front cargo hold that control the plane's movement. Such damage could have left the doomed jet locked into its final dive.

The plane's flight crew was aware there was fire in the cabin but could do nothing to stop the dive.


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