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Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 10:27 GMT
New evidence in Payne crash
A NSTB investigator finds the voice recorder at the crash site in South Dakota

Experts investigating the plane crash which killed the golfer Payne Stewart and five others in October say a low-pressure alarm sounded shortly before the fatal accident.

The alarm, which was heard on the cockpit voice recorder, could confirm investigators' suspicions that a sudden loss of pressure during the plane's climb after take-off in Florida caused all six people on board to pass out.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in an update of its investigation that the recorder captured no human voices, a detail reinforcing theories that all on board were rendered unconscious or dead from lack of oxygen long before the plane crashed in a South Dakota field on 25 October.

"The CVR tape contains no voices but there are sounds consistent with various alarms plus engine noises and other sounds that may provide useful information for investigators," an NTSB statement said.

The cabin pressure warning leaves questions about when it sounded, whether the two pilots responded properly or were incapacitated by a rapid decompression.

Payne Stewart's Learjet stopped responding to air traffic controllers while the plane was still over Florida on a trip to Texas.

It veered 1,500 miles off-course halfway across the United States before running out of fuel and crashing outside the village of Mina, South Dakota.

Military planes that chased the Learjet said its windows appeared frosted over, an indication of a decompression.

The cockpit recorder, which should have captured only the last 30 minutes of the flight, was severely damaged by the crash but its manufacturer assisted in retrieving data.

NTSB said various fragments of the aircraft, including parts of the pressurisation and oxygen systems, have been brought to several manufacturers for further examination.

Investigators were also interviewing passengers from earlier flights as well as pilots who previously flew the aircraft.

A former pilot with Sunjet, the company that operated Mr Stewart's plane, has alleged that the Learjet had previously experienced pressurisation problems.

Sunjet has said the plane had no pressurisation problems on an earlier flight.
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See also:
27 Oct 99 |  Americas
Q&A: Dangers of decompression
26 Oct 99 |  Americas
Investigators examine Stewart jet
25 Oct 99 |  Americas
Ghost plane's flight to disaster
25 Oct 99 |  Golf
'A sportsman, a gentleman, a friend'

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