Alaska Airlines Flight 261: 89 People On Board Downed Plane; Fmr. NTSB Official Discusses InvestigationAired February 1, 2000 - 0:15 a.m. ET
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JIM MORET, CNN ANCHOR: Bringing you the latest now in our continuing coverage of the crash of Alaska Airlines flight 261, which crashed about 20 miles northwest of Los Angeles International Airport, off the coast, nearly five hours ago. The latest figures now from Alaska Airlines, update, 89 people were on board. That updates from the 88 we had reported earlier. Of the 89 people, 84 were passengers, five crew, including a pilot and a co-pilot.
And let's remind you now of an automated 800-number for family and friends to call, 800-553-5117, you see it on your screen there.
CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: And joining us now is Ira Furman, who is a former deputy director with the NTSB. Thanks for joining us tonight.
IRA FURMAN, FORMER NTSB DEPUTY DIRECTOR: You're welcome.
CALLAWAY: We know that a go team with the NTSB is expected to leave very soon and head that way. Can you tell us if -- tell us first who would make up that go team?
FURMAN: The go team is safety board people who are headquartered in Washington, prepared to respond. And they call it go, ready to go. It would include specialists in various areas of action of the investigation, things like a specialist in air traffic control, in weather reports, maintenance, aircraft systems, operations, crew performance, even specialists in just something like aircraft engines.
All of them would descend at the scene, and they would then be joined by representatives of the aircraft manufacturer, the FAA, pilots' union, and other interested parties.
CALLAWAY: And can you take us through what will happen as soon as they arrive in L.A.?
FURMAN: I would expect that one team would be dispatched, one element of the team, would be dispatched to the headquarters of the airline, to immediately begin a review of maintenance records, both of the specific aircraft, as well as for the general maintenance of the fleet. Others will be going to the air traffic control facility and impounding the air traffic control tapes that record the communications.
There will also be cooperation efforts with the Navy that I'm sure will be asked to undertake salvage operation, to both attempt to recover the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, and then they will be looking at least for the tail section of that aircraft based upon the initial reports of a problem with stabilization trim.
CALLAWAY: We know that the Navy destroyers U.S.S. "Flack (ph)" and U.S.S. "Fletcher" have been called to the scene, but that a salvage ship has not been called, a -- Can you tell us, that would be a call by the NTSB, would it not?
FURMAN: Yes. The NTSB would request it. They have cooperation agreements with various agencies and with the Defense Department, and I would expect that that would be happening quickly.
CALLAWAY: Very quickly. And what do you think about the reports of a stabilizer trim problem? What do you think the NTSB will do with that information?
FURMAN: That's one of the things that will cause them, of course, to focus on the tail section, where the stabilizer is, and to look at whatever maintenance reports they can. They'll also look at the radar reports, because it is, of course -- a stabilizer problem is something that could bring a plane down precipitously. And I think based upon the modest-sized debris field, as debris fields go, it does suggest that this plane came down relatively intact. It did not break up in air.
CALLAWAY: Tell us a little bit about what this recovery effort will be like for the NTSB? Certainly will be a very difficult one, the situation in the waters of where this plane went down.
FURMAN: The painstaking effort and the delay is something that the board unfortunately has become used to. The TWA accident here, East Coast, involved underwater recovery, as did the EgyptAir flight and the SwissAir flight and even the flight of John F. Kennedy, Jr. So there's experience with recovery efforts.
The wreckage will be washed to get rid of salt water, and then it will be laid out, to the extent it's recovered, in a hangar area that will be marked on the floor with squares to tell it -- tell the investigators how far back from the nose to place this piece.
They will not, I don't believe, undertake a reassembly of the aircraft, but will want to identify, probably with underwater cameras and mapping, as best they can the principal components of the aircraft that they will ask be brought to the surface. And again, based upon that initial report, they will be focusing on the stabilizer.
CALLAWAY: When you said you don't think that they will be reassembling this aircraft, but this has been done in the past. Why do you think it would not be done in this case?
FURMAN: Because, with the TWA aircraft, where there was the most extensive reconstruction in history, it was done in part because of the theory that there was a terrorist event, and I think as much of the reconstruction was to disprove that theory as it was to actually prove what did happen to that aircraft, which, of course, was the center fuel tank explosion.
In this case, because they do have a basis, based upon a communication that's been reported, the focus on an area of the plane, they may be able to find the answer in that focus, as well as the information that comes from the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.
So it may not be necessary to engage in that extensive effort that is a reconstruction.
CALLAWAY: Ira Furman, former deputy director of the NTSB, thank you for joining us with that information.
FURMAN: (inaudible) the circumstances.
CALLAWAY: We'll take a break, be back in just a moment.
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