Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Tuesday, September 8, 1998 Published at 01:07 GMT 02:07 UK

World: Americas

Flight 111's black hole

Crucial information missing

The "black box" flight-data recorder, which investigators hoped would reveal vital information about the crash of Swissair Flight 111 last week, contains no information from the plane's final crucial minutes.

However, a signal from the plane's other "black box" - the cockpit-voice recorder - has been detected by a Canadian navy submarine.

[ image: The head of Swissair Jeffrey Katz walks past a memorial]
The head of Swissair Jeffrey Katz walks past a memorial
The chief crash investigator, Vic Gerden, said the flight-data recorder retrieved on Sunday was in good condition and should still provide more than 100 types of information, ranging from altitude and airspeed to whether the plane's smoke warning lights were on.

But he said there was no data for at least the last six minutes before the plane crashed last Thursday into the Atlantic Ocean off Canada, killing all 229 people aboard.

Mr Gerden said the data recording stopped once the plane dipped below 3,000 metres.

He said there was a strong possibility that the plane lost electrical power at that stage.

Final words

Investigators previously released details of the final conversations between the pilot and the control tower, which show that the plane hit the sea six minutes after losing its course.

The BBC's Tom Carver: What happened in those final six minutes?
Using a recording of the pilot's communications with the control tower and a radar track of the plane's path, investigators have pieced together a partial picture of the airliner's final few minutes.

If retrieved intact, the voice recorder would reveal other noises in the cockpit besides the pilots' conversation with controllers.

The first that air traffic controllers heard of the problem was 16 minutes before the crash.

The pilot announced: "Swissair 111 is declaring pan pan pan - we have smoke in the cockpit."

"Pan pan pan" is the expression used when an emergency is less acute than a mayday signal, which indicates imminent disaster. But the situation rapidly deteriorated.

The pilot suggested landing at Boston, but was told Halifax was closer, so he began heading in that direction.

However, the plane was at an altitude of around 10,000 metres and needed to lose height.

Air traffic controllers also gave the pilot permission to dump at least 30 tons of fuel to land safely to help it land safely.

Jane Hughes: "The rocky shoreline is now a cemetery"
The pilot's next words on the radio were that he was declaring an emergency.

"We have to land immediately," the pilot said, the last words the controller heard from the plane.

Radar signals showed that the airliner began flying off course in a rapidly descending loop over the sea.

Six minutes later, it hit the water.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia

Relevant Stories

06 Sep 98 | Americas
The final conversation

05 Sep 98 | Americas
Candles lit for air crash victims

05 Sep 98 | Americas
Scenes of sorrow at Peggy's Cove

Internet Links

Boeing/McDonnell Douglas: The MD-11


Government of Nova Scotia

Canadian Transportation Safety Board

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

From Business
Microsoft trial mediator appointed

Safety chief deplores crash speculation

From Entertainment
Taxman scoops a million

Violence greets Clinton visit

Bush outlines foreign policy

Boy held after US school shooting

Memorial for bonfire dead

Senate passes US budget

New constitution for Venezuela

North Korea expels US 'spy'

Hurricane Lenny abates

UN welcomes US paying dues

Chavez praises 'advanced' constitution

In pictures: Castro strikes out Chavez

WTO: arbitration in EU-Ecuador banana dispute

Colombian army chief says rebels defeated

Colombian president lambasts rebels