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Computer failure puzzling in Peruvian crash


More bodies recovered from Pacific

October 3, 1996
Web posted at: 10:00 p.m. EDT (0200 GMT)

LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- Peruvian investigators began the painstaking task Thursday of trying to determine "why the computers went crazy" on Aeroperu Flight 603, which plunged into the icy waters of the Pacific.

As they worked, fierce currents swept away the fuselage of the Boeing 757-200 that crashed Wednesday, killing all 70 aboard.

"It moves with the current and is no longer where it was yesterday," coast guard Capt. Augusto Zegarra said.

Using helicopters, navy frigates and private boats, rescuers recovered three more bodies Thursday, bringing the total to 13. They also fished out passengers' clothes, shoes and personal papers along with seats and fragments of wing and fuselage. Officials blamed the crash on a computer glitch.


"It is not the first time that one of these planes has had this kind of fault," Transport Minister Elsa Carrera de Escalante told a news conference. "We have to find out why the computers went crazy."

Probers stumped

About 12 investigators from Boeing, engine-maker Pratt & Whitney, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board met with representatives from Aeroperu, the airplane's owner.

A source close to the team of U.S. investigators said it was "very premature" to speculate about the cause of the crash and possible technical failures aboard the plane, which was in service for just three months.

The plane, built in November 1992, had undergone a major, FAA-approved routine overhaul in Mexico three months ago, Carrera said. It was registered in the United States and therefore met the FAA's standards for flight readiness, she added.


Carrera said the pilot's comments indicated that his entire navigational system had failed.

But Boeing spokeswoman Susan Bradley said Thursday that the system could not completely fail without "something catastrophic" -- like a bomb. She said backup systems would have kicked in, and that "in any event, the bottom line is the pilot could still fly the plane manually."

At this point, the inquiry is focused on computer failures aboard the jet, evident in a dramatic 29-minute dialogue between pilot Eric Schreiber and Lima air traffic controllers.

Pilot's plea offers clues

"Where am I? Over land or sea?" asked Schreiber as he tried to steer his plane through dense fog back to Lima after setting off for Santiago, Chile.


Carrera said the government had requested help from the United States to recover the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, which were believed trapped inside the underwater wreckage.

"The problem is that the central part of the fuselage is too deep," said navy Capt. Augusto Zegarra.

Relatives of the victims, who came from 11 countries, arrived Thursday to identify the bodies recovered and visit the crash site. There were condolences from around the world, including Pope John Paul II, French President Jacques Chirac and the government of Chile. Thirty of the victims were Chileans.

The crash was the third involving a 757, which had a perfect safety record from the time it entered commercial service in 1983 until last year, when an American Airlines 757 slammed into a mountain in Colombia, killing 159 people.


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