SPENCER MICHELS: An hour after the Coast Guard called off the search for survivors of the Alaska Airlines crash yesterday afternoon, Navy searchers recovered Flight 261's cockpit voice recorder. A remote-controlled submarine called Scorpio found the black box in 700 feet of water 10 miles off the Southern California coast.
The recovery of the voice recorder was achieved quickly by using a submersible remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, similar to this one. The unmanned ROV can descend much deeper than divers can, and its manipulator arms are used to grasp objects on the ocean floor while operators direct its movements from a video control room in a research vessel on the surface.
Last night at a news conference in California, investigators described eyewitness accounts of the plane's final plunge into the Pacific Ocean Monday, which killed all 88 people on board.
JOHN HAMMERSCHMIDT: The visual witness, who was geographically located on the east side of Ancoppa Island, reported observing an aircraft nearly overhead descending. This witness -- I should say combined visual and auditory -- descending, heard multiple popping sounds, saw the aircraft make a right turn for 270 degrees as a course change, impacted the water going approximately 80 degrees nose down.
During the descent, the aircraft was twisting, flying erratically, wings rocking. At no time during the aircraft's last one to two minutes of the flight did any objects depart from the aircraft. There was no observed fire, smoke, flames or any other aircraft or aircraft in the area. All three pilots used terms describing the descent of the accident aircraft as the flight had entered into tumbling, spinning, nose down, continuous roll, cork screwing and inverted.
SPENCER MICHELS: The voice recorder was shipped to Washington early this morning for analysis at the National Transportation and Safety Board's headquarters. At a news conference in Washington this afternoon, NTSB Chairman James Hall said the quality of the cockpit recording, containing the last 30 minutes of the flight, was good.
JAMES HALL: As the recording began, the flight crew was discussing an existing problem with the airplane's stabilizer trim. The flight crew decided to divert to Los Angeles International Airport. The airplane's out-of-trim condition became worse as the crew attempted to diagnose or correct the problem.
The crew had difficulty controlling the airplane's tendency to pitch nose down, the airplane descended, but the crew was able to arrest the descent. The crew continued troubleshooting and preparing for the -- preparing the airplane for landing. Then control was suddenly lost. The crew made references to being inverted that are consistent with the witness statements to that effect. The Safety Board will be convening a cockpit voice recorder group tomorrow to begin a transcript of the recorded information.
SPENCER MICHELS: At another press conference later this afternoon in California, the NTSB announced news of the other black box.
JOHN HAMMERSCHMIDT: Right now the flight data recorder has been located and is on its way up to the vessel Kelly Schwest, so it has been recovered. The same vessels -- the same vessel, the Kelly Schwest and the remote-operated vehicle Scorpio was the same combination that retrieved the cockpit voice recorder yesterday.
SPENCER MICHELS: All search and recovery operations will continue by remote control, since the water at is too deep for divers. The NTSB says its next step is to map the ocean floor at the site, before trying to recover pieces of the wreckage.