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Clues elusive in China plane crash

Yellow Sea search
A diver surfaces during his search for the black box of a crashed China Northern Airlines plane  

By staff and wires

DALIAN, China -- The cause of the Chinese airliner crash that killed 112 people remained unknown Thursday, as divers searched frigid, debris-strewn waters for potentially informative flight recorders.

No possibilities have been ruled out as to why the flight from Beijing crashed just short of its destination in Dalian, northest China, soon after the pilot reported a fire.

Officials said they hadn't ruled out any possible cause of the crash Tuesday night of the China Northern Airlines jet.

"We have never had an accident like this where the plane crashed into the sea, so we lack experience. But we are doing our very best," aviation official Yang Yuanyuan said at a news conference.

Searchers have found 66 bodies but identified only five victims, the officials said.

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They said most of the bodies were in pieces and were so badly damaged by the crash that even the sex of seven victims couldn't be determined.

According to Associated Press, officials said they had detected a homing signal emitted by the two "black box" recorders aboard the McDonnell Douglas MD-82.

"There have as yet been no breakthroughs," said Shan Chunchang, deputy director of the national State Administration of Work Safety Supervision.

The Dalian team of 51 divers had to sift 17 possible locations for the black boxes in very cold waters, Shan said.

Yang, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, added that officials had not received any reports of "unusual events" aboard the plane that might suggest a cause.

Relatives waiting

The round-the-clock salvage mission brought ashore clothing and shoes and left them to dry among cracked and charred fragments of the jet that crashed into the Yellow Sea.

Scattered on a trawler deck were family pictures, a teddy bear, a Great Wall tourist cap -- and a pair of human lungs.

Some 100 of the relatives of the dead, who included eight foreigners, waited in frustration for news and Shan said the bodies would be shown to them once they had been identified, reported Reuters news agency.

More than 40 vessels fished out 66 bodies and heaps of scattered debris on Wednesday but the divers, mostly from the Chinese navy, probed the cold northeastern waters in vain for the plane's main fuselage, officials and state media said.

The task force had confirmed the identities of five bodies, Shan said. "The majority of the bodies are not in good condition, so identification has been difficult," he said.

The task force was using an array of high-tech gadgetry, including American-made sonar and global positioning locators and more equipment would be shipped from Shanghai later in the week, Shan said.

Perfect record

The crash stunned the city occupied by the Russians in the 19th Century and the Japanese in the 20th but now renowned as a slick model of urban planning in a country filled with industrial wastelands.

This China Northern Airlines Boeing MD-82 twin-engine airliner, shown in a 1997 photo, is the same model of plane that crashed off the coast of China on Tuesday.
This China Northern Airlines Boeing MD-82 twin-engine airliner, shown in a 1997 photo, is the same model of plane that crashed off the coast of China on Tuesday.  

The plane had logged around 27,000 flight hours with a perfect maintenance record, Yang Yuanyuan, a senior official at the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), the industry regulator, told the news conference.

The aircraft had just undergone a routine check, he added.

It was the second deadly crash for Shenyang-based China Northern. In November 1993, a Northern MD-82 crashed while landing in the northwestern city of Urumqi, killing 12 people.

China Northern is due to be merged with Xinjiang Airlines into a large group under China Southern Airlines as part of a consolidation of the state-owned industry to make it





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