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Thursday, September 3, 1998 Published at 21:25 GMT 22:25 UK

World: Americas

Investigations begin into Canada air crash

Canadian police sort recovered debris from the Swissair crash

Investigations have begun into the crash of a Swiss plane off Canada's eastern coast, with the loss of all 229 people aboard.

BBC's Rob Watson: "All evidence points to mechanical failure"
The airliner - a McDonnell Douglas MD-11 belonging to Swissair - came down a few kilometres of the coast of Nova Scotia. Most of the victims were Americans, around 40 were Swiss.

The plane was en route from New York's John F Kennedy Airport to Geneva when it plunged into the water as the pilot tried to make a nightime, emergency landing after reporting smoke in the cockpit.

SwissAir chief Jeffrey Katz and a team of Swiss experts arrived in Canada on Thursday to assist in the investigation and talk to the victims' families.

Jeffery Katz said his priorities were to get as much fist-hand information as possible about the accident and to assist efforts to ease the burden on relatives.

Boeing team

Meanwhile, aircraft manufacturer Boeing, who took over McDonnell Douglas late last year, announced it would also send a team including a pilot and engineers to assist authorities investigating the crash.

[ image:  ]
A company spokesman said the team, which would probably report to the US National Transportation Safety Board, was being assembled in Long Beach, California, where the Seattle-based company manufactures the trijet aircraft.

Rescue efforts hampered

BBC's Jane Hughes: "More than three dozen bodies have been recovered"
Investigators at the scene believe they have located one substantial piece of wreckage and divers are searching the area around it for the flight recorder.

They say there is no indication that the crash was caused by a criminal act, but, at the moment, they're not ruling out any possible cause.

Should a criminal cause be ruled out, the investigation process could be speeded up because criminal rules of evidence will not dictate how material is collected and processed.

Rescue efforts, involving local fishermen, ships and helicopters were hampered by the rocky coastline and rough waters but a number of bodies have been recovered.

Hundreds of volunteers from across this rural part of Canada descended on the crash scene to offer their help.

[ image:  ]
Phone lines have been set up for people who believe they may know somebody who was on the plane.

Relatives of the dead who went to the airports in Geneva and New York were offered counselling.

The United Nations says a number of its officials were on board. One of the prominent victims was a high-ranking former head of the World Health Organisation's Aids programme, Jonathan Mann, and his wife.

Smoke in the cockpit

Crash investigator Roy Bears describes the last moments of Flight 111
Shortly before the crash the pilot made a request to make an emergency landing at Halifax airport.

He reported smoke in the cockpit, before losing radio contact with air traffic controllers.

The plane disappeared off the radar screen at about 0230 BST on Thursday, approximately one hour after take-off. It reportedly dumped tons of fuel along the shoreline before crashing.

National mourning

[ image: Flags at half mast at the Swiss Federal Parliament in Bern]
Flags at half mast at the Swiss Federal Parliament in Bern
The Swiss President, Flavio Cotti, expressed his deepest sympathy to families of the victims and said Swiss flags would be flown at half mast as an expression of grief.

"This is a difficult day for us all and for our country," he said.

Swissair has one of the world's best safety records, and the crash is the first disaster to hit it since October 1979 when a DC-8 carrying 142 people crashed into a fence while landing at Athens airport, killing 14 people.

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