Few clues surfacing in Swissair crash
Web posted at: 9:37 p.m. EDT (0137 GMT)
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PEGGY'S COVE, Nova Scotia (CNN) -- The taped conversation between air traffic controllers and the crew of Swissair Flight 111 does not offer "a great deal of additional information" in the search for the cause of the crash that killed the 229 people aboard, Canadian transportation spokesman Vic Gerden said Friday.
The MD-11 crashed Wednesday night, 14 minutes after the pilot declared "pan, pan, pan," an emergency radio call declaring that his plane was in trouble, an investigator said.
The Swissair crew, described as "professional at all times," descended appropriately, dumped fuel, aligned with the Halifax airport and mentioned an emergency only once more before the plane crashed into the Atlantic, said Gerden of the Canadian Transportation Safety Board.
Autopsies on the first bodies recovered indicate it was the plane's impact with the water that likely killed those on board, Dr. John Butt, the Nova Scotia medical examiner, said.
Some of the victims were wearing life jackets, suggesting they knew they might soon hit the water. Toxicology tests should reveal if passengers in the cabin breathed smoke, which should be an important clue to the accident cause.
Medical specialists were working in a hangar at a military base trying to identify the dead. No positive identifications had been made.
No signs of terrorism or oxygen use
By Friday, the crash site had been mapped, and searchers had recovered relatively small pieces of the aircraft and about 60 victims' bodies -- all yielding enough information to discuss the crash in more detail.
According to Gerden, Frank Skidmore of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and search coordinator Lt. Cmdr. Glenn Chamberlain of the Canadian Navy:
No 'large piece' of plane found
Chamberlain denied that "a large piece" of the plane had been located, while Gerden said there were "indications but not confirmation of a large object down there."
Chamberlain said Canadian ships and a submarine, HMCS Okanagan, made a sonar map of the crash site, but the image shows "anomalies" that could be old shipwrecks or geographic features of the rocky ocean bottom.
The Okanagan remains in the region, perhaps to scan the area again once the weather improves. Chamberlain said 40 divers - - with more on the way -- will begin systematically searching for wreckage and more bodies now that the search site "is reasonably defined and controlled."
The Canadian Navy formally ended the search for survivors Friday, saying no one could have survived 36 hours in the cold waters of the North Atlantic.
Gerden said at a midafternoon media briefing that transcripts of the conversations between the air traffic control tower and the Swissair crew will be released Saturday, along with a map of the plane's route.
No 'may day' signal
He repeatedly said the Swissair crew "sounded like they were dealing with the situation in a very professional way."
He said the plane gave the "Pan, Pan, Pan" mid-level emergency alert at 33,000 feet (10,000 meters) and asked to land at Boston. Controllers informed the crew that Halifax was closer, about 58 miles (93 kilometers) to the northwest, and the decision to go to Halifax was made "quite early on," Gerden said.
He said the plane descended to 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) and dumped fuel during two "orbits" -- flying over the same leg of a route twice.
No "may day" call -- a more urgent signal than "pan" -- was ever heard from the plane, he said. The investigator said he did not remember the pilots' last words.
"It was not a significant addition to the investigation," Gerden said.
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