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Thursday, September 3, 1998 Published at 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK

World: Americas

The rescue operation: 'an eerie sight'

Anxious wait for relatives of those on board

BBC News Online's Neil Everton went to the scene of the Swissair crash in Nova Scotia.

It was an eerie sight. Searchlights from an armada of fishing vessels scanning the waters. Two fixed-wing aircraft and three helicopters keeping station over the debris field, occasionally piercing the pre-dawn darkness with flares.

BBC Correspondent Jane Hughes: grim task of recovering the bodies
And there was the sound. The steady static crackle of marine radios as the fishing boats reported back to the floating command centre, the supply ship HMCS Preserver.

From whichever boat it comes, the message was the same - more bodies found, more wreckage recovered.

All this is been played out in the middle of a huge debris field, spread across the mouth of St. Margaret's Bay. Over it hangs the smell of aviation fuel.

Back at the naval base in Halifax, two more frigates are preparing to put to sea at first light to join the search. But it is a search for the 228 victims of the crash.

Doctors and nurses who were called from their beds and told to prepare for an influx of survivors have been sent home.

An emergency medical centre at a Canadian military base is now serving as a mortuary.

Final moments

This is how the last moments of Swissair Flight 111 seem to have passed.

One hour out of New York the pilot reported an emergency - smoke in the cockpit.

He was diverting to Halifax International Airport. Flying low over the south shore of Nova Scotia he dumped 200 tons of aviation fuel.

Witnesses report hearing the plane's engine. Then a noise like a thunderclap.

As the plane disappeared off the radar screen, a rescue effort started that has touched just about every community along an 80km stretch of coast.

This is an area of small fishing communities. From every port and inlet fishing crews put to sea to be there if there were survivors.

Now those fishing boats sent back messages of bodies, debris, fragments of personal belongs. But no signs of life.

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