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World - Americas

New details emerge of Swissair 111's last minutes

This chart shows the preliminary track of Swissair Flight 111  
September 5, 1998
Web posted at: 9:45 p.m. EDT (0145 GMT)

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (CNN) -- The Canadian Transportation Safety Board released more details Saturday about the last minutes of Swissair Flight 111.

Based on transcripts of conversations between the plane and air traffic controllers, as well as the plane's radar track, here is a rough scenario of the flight's last 16 minutes:

  • At about 10:14 p.m. Wednesday (9:14 p.m. EDT/0114 GMT), the MD-11 jet, which took off from Kennedy International Airport in New York, is about 400 nautical miles (460 miles/736 kilometers) into its trip to Geneva, cruising at an altitude of 33,000 feet (10,000 meters), when something goes wrong.

    "Swissair 111 heavy is declaring Pan Pan Pan. We have smoke in the cockpit, request deviate immediate right turn to a convenient place. I guess Boston," the pilot radios air traffic control. (Pan Pan Pan is a distress code.)

    After informing the pilot that Halifax is much closer, a controller asks, "Would you prefer to go into Halifax?"

    "Affirmative," says the pilot, who turns north and is cleared to descend to 10,000 feet (3030 meters).

  • As the plane reaches the coast of Nova Scotia, the pilot is assigned a path for landing. The controller informs the pilot, "You've got 30 miles (48 kilometers) to fly to the (runway) threshold."

    "We need more than 30 miles," he responds, concerned that he is still too high to descend to a landing within that distance. The controller then instructs the pilot to turn left to lose some more altitude, and he veers away from Halifax.

  • As the pilot approaches an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,030 meters), he informs the control tower, "We must dump some fuel." He requests permission to make a right or left turn, which would take him south, back out over the ocean and away from the Halifax airport. He is cleared to make a 200-degree turn to the left.

  • Immediately after executing the turn, at 10:24 p.m., the pilot's conversation becomes more urgent: "We are declaring an emergency.... We have to land immediately." It is the last transmission from Swissair 111, which is at 9,700 feet (2,940 meters).

  • Over the next six minutes, the pilot proceeds back out toward the ocean in a southbound direction, then turns in a complete circle, apparently trying to realign his route to the east, which would have taken him once again toward the Halifax airport.

  • The plane hits the water at about 10:30 p.m., some 16 minutes after the smoke in the cockpit was first reported.

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