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CNN Today

Alaska Airlines Flight 261: Investigators Close in on Retrieving Tail Section

Aired February 4, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now that investigators have recovered both flight recorders from the Alaska Airlines crash, they're closing in on another piece of important evidence: the doomed airliner's tail section. Crews continue to search the crash site off Point Mugu, California. They say they have pinpointed the location of the MD-83's tail, where the stabilizers are located. The crew of Flight 261 was having trouble with the horizontal stabilizer when the plane crashed.

CNN's Carl Rochelle joins us with more now from Port Hueneme, California -- Carl.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, they have pinpointed exactly where those tail feathers, as the aviation community sometimes refers to them as, the horizontal stabilizer and vertical stabilizer, and in fact the vertical stabilizer easily recognizable, because Alaska Airlines paints the face of an Eskimo on the vertical stabilizer, the part that runs like this and has the rudder on the back that turns. That's their logo, and the people who were down, the Navy deep-sea submersible groups who were operating those remotely- operated vehicles from the Kelly Chouest and the other ships in the area, were able to look at it and identify that because of the face on the tail of it. So, they know they have that there.

There are actuators in there, there are jack screws, if you will, a shaft, something like this pin with screw threads on it that runs up and down, and that's what moves that horizontal stabilizer up and down. They want to look at that assembly. They want to look at it very closely and determine if that is what caused the problem. They also want to look at the cockpit area and look for switches, because an American Airlines aircraft, an MD-80 that had a problem a couple of days ago coming out of Phoenix, was determined to have had a short in the trim control switch on the co-pilot side, and that was what was causing the stabilizer trim to jam in that particular area. So, that is another thing they want to look into.

One question being raised is, if the movement of the aircraft into a landing mode, deploying the flaps and the slats, caused the airplane to go out of control. There is a warning in the pilot's flight manual that tells pilots not to get any steep, nose-down condition with the horizontal stabilizer inoperative because they may exceed the ability of the aircraft to control itself in flight. And extending these devices on it may have contributed to the airplane going down. That is another area that they are looking in very carefully.

Where do they go next? Well, they'll continue to look for debris on the bottom and continue to pick stuff up and bring it in. They are investigating and interviewing people who were involved in this, and we expect to get a readout on the flight data recorder, which is in Washington today, and that should come at a news conference expected here about 4:30 Eastern Time. We expect both the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Jim Hall, and John Hammerschmidt, the member who is here, to come and talk to us about that.

I'm Carl Rochelle, CNN, reporting live from Port Hueneme, California.

ALLEN: All right, Carl.

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