Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Americas
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Helen Sawyer
"One of the black boxes recorded a loud noise"
 real 28k

Saturday, 5 February, 2000, 06:15 GMT
New clue to US air crash

Flight recorder Rescuers hope that the flight data recorder will also provide clues

US crash investigators have revealed that a loud noise was heard on Alaska Airlines Flight 261 minutes before it crashed into the Pacific killing all 88 people on board.

The noise was one of two revealed by analysis of the cockpit voice recorder, said John Hammerschmidt, who heads the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) investigation into Sunday's crash off the coast of southern California.

He said experts examining the tape reported that 12 minutes before the recording ended with the MD-83 jetliner going into its fatal plunge, the pilots lost control of the aircraft but regained it after a minute or so.

Salvage ship Deep water salvage ships help the search
"After recovery from this loss of vertical control, a flight attendant advised the crew that she had heard a loud noise in the rear of the aircraft," Mr Hammerschmidt told a news briefing.

"The crew acknowledged that they had heard it, too.

"Slightly more than one minute before the end of the recording, a loud noise can be heard on the recording and the airplane appears to go out of control," he said.

Mr Hammerschmidt declined to speculate as to what might have caused the noise.

He also told reporters that the grim task of retrieving the bodies of the victims had begun.

Click here for a graphic of the last minutes of Flight 261

An official memorial service is to be held on Saturday at Pepperdine University chapel in Malibu, some 35 miles (56 kilometres) south of the crash site.

Only four bodies have so far been recovered. Investigators believe most are pinned beneath the debris of the plane.

Rescuers have now retrieved parts of the wrecked plane, including an intact section of the tail and a piece of fuselage. Several large pieces of debris were also located using underwater robots.

Mr Hammerschmidt said the investigation was progressing rapidly, with sonar appearing to show the debris in a single concentration within an area the size of a football field.

The NTSB has previously said that radio transmissions and eyewitness reports from other commercial pilots in the area show the plane turned upside down or "corkscrewed" into the water following a series of increasingly desperate manoeuvres that lasted at least half an hour.

The plane - en route from Mexico to Seattle via San Francisco - had been heading for an emergency landing at Los Angeles when it crashed.

Click here to return

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Americas Contents

Country profiles

See also:
03 Feb 00 |  Americas
US crash wreckage located
02 Feb 00 |  Americas
Pilot's desperate struggle revealed
01 Feb 00 |  Sci/Tech
Black box: Key to disaster investigations
01 Feb 00 |  Americas
Airline's worst incident for 30 years
01 Feb 00 |  Americas
Hope fades for LA crash survivors

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories