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Black boxes found in Taiwan crash probe

Staff and wires

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan search teams have located the two "black box" recorders of a China Airlines Boeing 747-200 plane that crashed into the sea off the island's coast over the weekend and killed 225 people.

The country's transport Minister Lin Lin-san said on Wednesday they had found the position of the black boxes north of Penghu and that search teams would try to recover them Thursday with fishing nets.

The find comes as crash investigators in Taiwan say they hope to use radar and satellite images from ally United States and rival China to help in the search of the 22-year-old jetliner, part of the island's flag carrier fleet.

China Airlines flight CI611 broke up in mid-air Saturday shortly after takeoff from Taipei en route to Hong Kong, scattering wreckage across a large area of the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and mainland China.

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Kay Yong of Taiwan's Aviation Safety Council told reporters radar and satellite information would help investigators "better estimate the way the debris fell."

America has yet to respond to the request, but China answered quickly. In Beijing, a Chinese spokesman, Zhang Mingqing, said President Jiang Zemin had instructed all relevant mainland departments to help with the salvage work.

China and Taiwan are normally arch-rivals, with Beijing labeling the island a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.

So far, only a tiny fraction of the plane has been found with major chunks submerged in the strait near the Penghu island chain, off Taiwan's western coast and about 300 kilometers (180 miles) from Taipei.

Dozens of navy and fishing vessels are looking for the wreckage, a search that could take weeks or months.

Mystery crash

Officials have so far ruled out weather, severe turbulence and air traffic control mistakes as possible crash causes.

Security officials have said there is no evidence of a terrorist or missile attack. But officials have declined to speculate why the plane went down.

The crew reported no problems before the crash, indicating that whatever happened to the aircraft happened quickly and without warning.

One theory is that structural problems or a sudden cabin depressurization caused the break up of jetliner, which the airliner planned to retire from its fleet next month.

Another theory is that the plane's cargo or fuel tanks exploded, causing it to break up.

Air traffic control radar showed that one chunk of the jet shot backward at a high speed, as if propelled by a blast. The other three parts kept going forward.

TWA flight 800

In a bid to determine the cause, the United States has sent an 11-member team of experts to join the probe, including people from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing and engine manufacturers Pratt and Whitney.

Among them are six investigators who were involved in the investigation of the 1996 crash of TWA flight 800 -- another Boeing 747, although of an earlier model -- in what experts have called a similar scenario.

That aircraft exploded after take-off from New York's JFK airport scattering debris across a large area of sea.

The investigation determined the most likely cause of that crash was an explosion of fuel vapor in the aircraft's largely empty central fuel tank.

On Sunday, officials said search teams had found signals from flight CI 611's cockpit voice and flight data recorders, but said later they turned out to be false.

To date investigators have found bodies of 96 of the 225 people aboard.


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