'There could have been an explosion'

flight recorder

Soot damage found on jet wreckage; families to visit crash site

May 14, 1996
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Investigators are looking into the possibility that an explosion or fire may have occurred before ValuJet Flight 592 went down in the Florida Everglades Saturday, killing all 109 people on board.


The flight was carrying 50 to 60 oxygen generators as cargo, and some parts of the aircraft were found with soot damage, Robert Francis, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Tuesday.

"There could have been an explosion," Francis said.

The oxygen generators had exceeded their shelf life, NTSB lead investigator Greg Feith said, and were being returned to ValuJet headquarters in Atlanta.

Francis also said preliminary data from the flight data recorder indicate the jet lost altitude and airspeed moments before the crash.

Preliminary flight recorder data

In a press conference that capped a long and tiring day of searching for evidence in the marshy Everglades, Francis also said that family members would be granted their request to visit the crash site Wednesday.


They will not be allowed close enough to interrupt the activities of search teams, who are now clad in special suits to protect them against the jet fuel in the water. Sharpshooters are standing by, armed with rifles to protect divers against alligators and poisonous snakes.

Although the NTSB is working around the Metro Dade Fire-Rescue team, its main goal is still to determine what caused the crash, Francis said. His team has begun analyzing data from the flight recorder -- also known as the "black box" -- that was recovered Tuesday. Francis stressed the preliminary nature of the data.

Francis said the data recordings were interrupted a number of times.

The FAA issued a directive April 15 requiring the inspection of wiring that has caused smoke in the cockpits of some older DC-9s; the order goes into effect Wednesday, May 15, four days after the crash of ValuJet's DC-9. The directive was aimed at preventing potential fire and uncontrolled smoke throughout the cockpit. The Flight 592 crew had reported smoke in the cockpit and cabin shortly before the DC-9 crashed.

The initial FAA statement required the overhead switch panel wiring to be inspected and repaired if needed within 90 days.

Francis said that the crashed jet's wiring had not yet been found, and he did not know whether the wiring had been inspected and replaced. The FAA has said that in cases where the wiring smoked up the cockpits of other DC-9s, the flights were never in jeopardy.

DOT inspector suggests FAA was 'soft' on ValuJet

The inspector general for the Department of Transportation will immediately begin to investigate charges that Federal Aviation Administration inspectors were directed "to go soft" on ValuJet.

The one-sentence release for Inspector General Mary Schiavo's office simply reads, "The DOT'S OIG will investigate whether or not inspectors were directed to 'go soft' on ValuJet."

Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens Tuesday angrily attacked Schiavo, suggesting President Clinton should fire her for her negative remarks about "marginal" airlines in general and about ValuJet in particular.

Since the ValuJet crash on Saturday, Schiavo has publicly criticized the safety of ValuJet and similar carriers -- and the FAA's handling of them -- both in media interviews and in an essay for Newsweek magazine.

Stevens made his remarks at a Senate hearing on spending authorization for the FAA.

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