LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
JULY 25, 1996
Betty Ann Bowser updates the search for answers about TWA Flight 800.
MS. BOWSER: Navy divers working late into the night found the two black boxes, the flight data and cockpit voice recorders. They were submerged in more than 100 feet of water under what remains of the tail section of the plane. It was a location almost directly under the Navy's USS Grasp, a state of the art salvage recovery vessel.
KEVIN GELHAFEN, Diver: They're fairly small boxes. Recovering the boxes was merely picking them up, setting them in the basket, and tying them down.
MS. BOWSER: The black boxes, which actually are orange in color, were transported from Long Island overnight in fresh water to prevent them from drying out too quickly, which can destroy data.
ROBERT FRANCIS, Vice Chairman, NTSB: The divers were always conscious of the fact that after, after finding victims, that this was the highest priority. And they were down there in that environment looking, and the light from the remote vehicle apparently was, was on the recorders, and the divers saw them.
MS. BOWSER: The recorders were flown to Washington immediately for analysis. The National Transportation Safety Board hopes they contain information about the last seconds of Flight 800, information that might explain why the 747 exploded and crashed eight days ago.
BERNARD LOEB, Director, Aviation Safety: These are moderately damaged. We've had them with extremely heavy damage.
MS. BOWSER: Initial examination of the recorders left officials optimistic and explained why they had been unable to locate them from their so-called pinging sound.
VERNON ELLINGSTAD, Director, Office of Research & Engineering: The one piece of damage here on the flight data recorder was that the pinger or the underwater locator beacon was torn off and was missing from this recorder.
MS. BOWSER: This morning, President and Mrs. Clinton arrived on Long Island and met with investigators. They came amid controversy over contradictory statements federal and state officials had made about how many bodies could be recovered. Families of the victims were upset by those statements and expressed their anger very publicly. Today, most of New York's elected officials turned out to support the President. Then Mr. Clinton and the First Lady met behind closed doors with the families.
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO, (R) New York: The President is doing the right thing. He's to be commended for coming here, for giving comfort to the families, and getting all the facts and coordinating and doing everything he can. A very good meeting, and--I told the President that his visit certainly was welcome. His coming is very important to the families who are hurting, who are understandably hurting. So I think this is just a very, very good thing that he's doing today.
MS. BOWSER: Reaction among families was mixed.
RELATIVE OF VICTIM: I can only speak for myself and my family. It's no use of him coming now. He should have been here from the beginning when he should have been here.
RELATIVE OF VICTIM: It was just very nice to have the President of the United States come down. I think everybody felt that everybody rose and nobody at all was in the slightest disrespectful to him. They were very respectful.
MS. BOWSER: New York Supreme Court Judge Michael Pesce lost his fiancee and her mother in the crash of Flight 800. He did not attend the family meeting with the President today because he says he doesn't want to dwell anymore on the past. Pesce says he will press now for legislation that would mandate the federal government take over all aspects of any future airline disasters.
MICHAEL PESCE, FiancÚ of Victim: I, I would feel much more comfortable if I knew that when a disaster such as this occurred that all the resources that the federal government has is made available and comes to the scene immediately.
MS. BOWSER: They'd take complete control?
MICHAEL PESCE: Yeah. It's well documented what happened this tragedy, but I just felt that if there was a command post with someone from the federal government in charge, I don't think we would have the kind of conflicting reports that the media gave or that the other different officials gave to the families. And, and that is something I think that would, would not increase the pain and the suffering that the families went through and are still going through.
MS. BOWSER: Partially because of criticism from families, the NTSB has agreed to become the clearing house for all information released about this crash and agreed to brief families first. Late today, officials gave a preliminary report on what they've learned about the black boxes.
ROBERT FRANCIS, Vice Chairman, NTSB: The cockpit voice recorder, CVR, sustained moderate impact damage, with no sign of fire damage. The underwater locator beacon was attached and operative. A good tape recording was recovered from the CVR containing approximately 31 minutes of recorded information. The recording indicated a routine, pre-flight take-off and departure from JFK International. About eleven and one half minutes after take-off, the recording ended abruptly. All four CVR channels recorded a brief, fraction of a second sound just prior to the end of the tape. Analysis is being directed to the identification of the characteristics of this sound. Flight data recorder--the FDR sustained moderate impact damage, with no sign of fire damage. We, we have yet to lift any serious pieces of wreckage. We have told the NTSB senior people on the ships that if they decide in conjunction with the Navy and with the other specialists who are out there that there is a possibility that there would be a victim under a piece of wreckage and that the wreckage would have to be moved in order to get to victims, they should make the decision to do that and lift the wreckage. This diving out there, the people are wonderfully professional, but I can tell you, having seen a couple of the divers come up, it's, it's not fun. These, these divers have been down for 30 minutes, which is sort of half of what the maximal would be. Some are going down for an hour. It was clear that they'd been through a physical experience, and they go into the decompression chamber for about a half an hour. They did for the amount of time and the depth that they'd been down at, but these guys are doing a wonderful job out there, and I think they deserve everyone's thanks. I have heard no reports from anyone that there are dozens of bodies down there. Now there may well be dozens of bodies down there, but there has been no point where I have been informed, and I would solicit Ed if he thinks differently that, that any of us have been told that there are dozens of bodies down there. You know, there have been times when we have known that there were some bodies that hadn't been recovered, and, and that's the way the process goes. Now let me--let me just--could I qualify--you know, we've got bodies that are in various states of transport from one place to another. So if you ask the medical examiner, you'll get a number--if you're on the dock, if you're on the ship, umm, so, so we may be off by one, but we're not off by much in terms of our counting here.
MS. BOWSER: Francis said 12 more bodies were recovered today, and although finding the cause of the crash goes on, uniting victims with the families remains a first priority.