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ValuJet 592 crash to be blamed on oxygen canisters

November 15, 1996
Web posted at: 4:20 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Susan Candiotti

MIAMI (CNN) -- Investigators have concluded the cargo bay fire that caused the deadly crash of ValuJet Flight 592 originated in volatile oxygen canisters mistakenly labeled and improperly packed, according to a highly placed source.

The oxygen canisters were stored in the cargo bay. Federal investigators said many of the canisters were missing safety caps, and a cargo manifest listed them as being empty when they were not.

"It was definitely not an electrical spark that ignited the fire," the source told CNN. "The canisters started the fire. There was nothing in the cargo bay that could have ignited the canisters."

The National Transportation Safety Board begins a week of hearings Monday on the May 11 disaster that killed all 110 people aboard the Miami-to-Atlanta flight. The hearings will be used as a forum to pin blame to the canisters.

The canisters have been considered a prime culprit since shortly after the plane plunged into the Everglades, a disaster that led to the carrier's grounding for 3 1/2 months and a sharp curtailment of its operations after it resumed service this fall.

The Department of Transportation imposed an emergency ban on the shipment of oxygen canisters after the crash.

During tests this month at a Federal Aviation Administration facility in New Jersey, oxygen canisters similar to those packed on Flight 592 were ignited and quickly reached temperatures of well over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

It remains unclear whether the fire ignited before or after takeoff. As previously revealed from the cockpit voice recorder, smoke and fire in the passenger cabin were reported about six minutes after the DC-9 left Miami International Airport.

crash site

About three minutes after fire was discovered, the plane nose-dived into the Everglades. Sources say the blaze burned through the jet's flight control cables that help steer the aircraft. The cables run the length of the aircraft above the front cargo bay where the fire erupted.

The ValuJet DC-9 that crashed had no smoke detectors or fire- suppression system in the cargo hold.

CNN has learned the NTSB will also re-issue recommendations that smoke detectors and fire suppression systems be installed in all Class D aircraft.

On Thursday, the FAA announced it was in the process of writing a rule to mandate those systems. It would cover the following aircraft: 727s, 737s, DC-8, DC-9, DC-10, MD 80s and Airbus 320s. The order would cover roughly 2,800 older aircraft at an estimated cost of $500 million.


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