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CNN Today

Cockpit Voice Recorder Provides Little Help in Pennsylvania Charter Plane Crash Investigation

Aired May 22, 2000 - 2:07 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: It appears increasingly likely that a charter plane lost power in both engines before it crashed in Pennsylvania, killing all 19 on board. Today, federal investigators listened to the airplane's voice recorder, and apparently they did not hear much.

CNN's Carl Rochelle is keeping track of the story. He joins us from the city of Wilkes-Barre in eastern Pennsylvania -- Carl.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Natalie. Well, that is absolutely correct. Sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN that, in fact, when they listened to the cockpit voice recorder, they found that it was virtually blank.

Now, that airplane does not carry a flight data recorder. There was only the combat -- the cockpit voice recorder on board, and that is going to make finding the cause of this accident even more difficult than it was before

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): The weather was bad -- low ceilings and misty skies -- as the twin-engine Jetstream 31 turboprop charter flight carrying 17 passengers and a crew of two crashed and burned into flames about nine miles from the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania airport.

GEORGE BLACK, NTSB: The airplane was attempting an instrument landing system approach to Runway 4 at Wilkes-Barre. It missed its first approach and was attempting a second approach when the accident occurred.

ROCHELLE: Because the weather was so bad at the time the plane was attempting to land, it is unclear whether it was unable to land on the first attempt because of the weather or because of the engine problems. Aviation officials indicated that the crew had reported problems with the engines, including, at one point, loss of power in both engines.

Executive Airlines, a New York-based charter company that owns 16EJ, the plane that crashed, told CNN, "there is nothing that we can identify that could possibly have contributed to the crash," adding, "the plane has a very good safety record."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROCHELLE: (OFF-MIKE) apparently any sound on the cockpit voice recorder. There are the tapes of conversations between the aircraft and the tower. Of course, we've heard some of the conversations that were recorded by an individual who was monitoring the frequency, but the FAA will have copies of that information within -- recorded hardware recordings within the tower cab, and they'll pass it on to investigators.

Now, I talked to an earwitness -- earwitness I say because it was so cloudy she couldn't see anything, but she heard the engines running on the airplane, she heard the engines stop, all quiet, then the engines start again, and then stop. And shortly after that, she heard a sound that she believes was likely the airplane hitting the ground -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And, Carl, what would happen to a plane like this if it lost both engines simultaneously?

ROCHELLE: Well, it would be catastrophic. They would try to get them restarted, but the interesting thing here, Natalie, is why two engines would stop at the same time. And almost all aviation experts agree it is likely some sort of lack of fuel going to the engines. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean it didn't have any fuel on board because the fact that there was flame where the airplane went down indicates there probably was fuel contributed to the fire there.

What it could mean is contamination of the fuel that was on board or a breakdown in the mechanical supply system -- fuel pumps and something along that line -- that deprived the engines of clean fuel that they could burn. A contaminant could possibly be water or something like that. That is why the National Transportation Safety Board is trying to determine where the aircraft got its last fuel and try to get samples of that fuel to see if it was contaminated there. They're going to be looking at those systems and any fuel that they can find at the site of the crash as they continue their investigation today.

And, Natalie, weather here is pretty bad right now. It's raining outside. This is up in a very dense area up in the mountainous, wooded area, and they're having a lot of difficulty. It's slow progress trying to find that.

Let me make one more point, Natalie, that we expect a news conference here. Earlier it was set for 1:00. We now understand it should start in about another hour from now if things are on time, again, and the National Transportation Safety Board will tell us -- should tell us what they know at that point, Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Carl Rochelle. We'll provide live coverage of that news conference. Thank you.

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