THE SEARCH CONTINUES
JULY 26, 1996
This marks day nine in the investigation of the crash of TWA Flight 800, and today federal investigators are working on more clues to what caused the accident. Betty Ann Bowser has an update from the crash site.
MS. BOWSER: Early today, salvage crews located two of the 747's four engines using remote video cameras. They're located in the main debris field below the U.S. Navy salvage vessel Grasp and another recovery ship. The two engines are the heaviest pieces of the aircraft spotted so far and could provide investigators with some critical information about the cause of the crash.
ROBERT FRANCIS, Vice Chairman, NTSB: These engines are probably the biggest things that we're going to be lifting. They're seven to nine thousand pounds. So that while the admiral's resources out there are capable of lifting them, they're not the easiest thing in the world to lift, I would say that they won't come out of the water today. One of the things we want to look at is using the remote video and optics to perhaps answer questions about those engines without having to lift them out to divert actions from recovering victims.
MS. BOWSER: Once again, Navy divers equipped to go down below 100 feet searched the bottom for bodies. And although more than half of the 230 victims have been recovered, finding them in the tangled wreckage takes time, and it's not an easy task.
ROBERT FRANCIS: When they're working in an area, they stir up the silt, and visibility drops off pretty quickly. On the other hand, it is a firm bottom so that things aren't sinking down into it. There's a lot of wreckage down there, and wreckage obviously is, is a dangerous place to be working, so they have to be careful. There's a lot of metal. There's sharp metal. There's torn metal. There's wire. And they're being prudent, and that's why this is taking time.
MS. BOWSER: Late this afternoon, there was new information on the aircraft's black boxes. National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Robert Francis read an analysis completed today in Washington of the 747's two flight recorders, the CVR or cockpit voice recorder, and the FDR, or flight data recorder.
ROBERT FRANCIS: Safety Board engineers have nearly completed recovery of the data from the contaminated area of the flight data recorder tapes. All recovered data end abruptly with no anomalies. That is to say, there's nothing to indicate that anything--that an engine stopped or the aircraft tipped or pitched up or changed speed. The airplane was in a stable wings level climb, heading was steady, engine pressure ratios were stable, longitudinal and vertical accelerometers did not indicate any abrupt maneuvers. They did indicate that the air was smooth. Time correlation between the CVR and the FDR data show that both recordings ended at nearly the same time, within a fraction of a second. The last conversation on the recording was a call out by Captain for climb power. There was a normal delayed engine start, and this is a fuel conservation measure. That's my editorial comment. Initial start numbers one, two, and four engines, a delayed engine start of number three was accomplished about five minutes prior to take-off. The right seat pilot was a check captain, instructing the left seat pilot. Now, as you'll recall from one of our early discussions here, the left seat pilot was a very high time and experienced pilot. So he wasn't a novice. The flight engineer was in training status. He was seated at the flight engineer's panel. The jump seat was occupied by an instructor flight engineer who was supervising the flight engineer. During the climb out the flight was clear to 19,000 feet, and asked to expedite their climb out of 15,000 feet. The flight was subsequently told to stop climb at 13,000 feet because of crossing traffic. The recording ends with a loud, unknown noise. This noise is heard on all of the four CVR channels. The flight appeared routine during ground operations, take-off and climb out.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Now to help us decipher all that black box information and other clues to the cause of the TWA crash, we have two experts: Kenneth Quinn, who was the FAA chief counsel from 1991 to ‘93 and is now a private attorney here in Washington, and Vernon Grose, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1983 to 1984. He now runs a systems technology firm in Virginia. Thank you both for joining us. Starting with you, Mr. Quinn, help us understand what we just heard in the simplest of terms. What is the significance of that information?
KENNETH QUINN, Former Chief Counsel, FAA: I think the NTSB has provided a lot of information without providing us any information from the FDR.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: That's the flight data recorder.
MR. QUINN: Right. The flight data recorder, the cockpit voice recorder, the so-called black boxes that are actually orange are telling us that there were no anomalies. Very similar, fairly similar to other--
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Excuse me.
MR. QUINN: --incidents.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: I'm sorry, but he defined no anomalies, but help us again understand no anomalies.
MR. QUINN: Well, the flight data recorder will have about, I believe in this aircraft, 19 different parameters. It'll look at power ranges, engine thrust. It will look at your aileron control, your flap control, your altitude, all kinds of different readings, really kind of like an EKG on the entire body to tell you how it was functioning. And in this instance, everything appeared to be normal. That is basically what we found in Pan Am 103, was that the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder both yielded little information, but by yielding no information, it told us a lot, that it was really a catastrophic event, both of them on the cockpit voice recorder, and suddenly and abruptly, with a large noise.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Okay. I want to get to that large noise in a second, but I want to hear what Mr. Grose heard. What did you hear in all that detail of information?
VERNON GROSE, Former Member, NTSB: Well, I'm quite pleased. Maybe Ken isn't as pleased as I am. But the FDR has been correlated with the CVR, both these recorders, and they give different information.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: The voice recorder.
MR. GROSE: The voice recorder. The cockpit voice recorder gives you the human factors--what's happening up on the flight deck--and it has four microphones, and they all apparently quit at the same time. So that gives us some added intelligence by that.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: What?
MR. GROSE: That they all had the single power failure. They were all linked together with the electrical power on the airplane, and, and then the flight data recorder is giving us the parameters, whether it's seventeen or nineteen that Ken's mentioned, they've also been time-correlated now with the cockpit voice recorder. And they'll still continue to analyze those recordings, both of them.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: But what does it mean that they all stopped at the same time? Does that tell us anything?
MR. GROSE: It simply means that the aircraft--they're electrically powered, both of them--probably off the same bus or wire--and the bad thing about it, as far as I'm concerned, I'm a physicist by background, I feel that they could actually have battery-powered recorders, which would go beyond the cut-off of a broken wire or some catastrophic event that knocks out the electrical power in the airplane.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: So the conclusion that one is led to by the fact that they all stopped at the same time is that it was some catastrophic event like what?
MR. QUINN: Well, an act of sabotage. And so--
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: So nothing else could have done this?
MR. GROSE: No, I'm not of--
MR. QUINN: Many other things could have done it. I think it's still kind of premature to really focus conclusively on sabotage but certainly, I mean, an engine out with a blade cutting through a fuselage or a wing and causing ignition could lead to a catastrophic event, many other things.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Hmm-hmm.
MR. QUINN: You need to marry the information you have from the cockpit voice recorder, indicating the sudden interrupt end, with the flight data recorder, indicating no anomalies, with now a trail of physical evidence. You have to go down the forensic trail, looking at it chemically and from a metallurgical standpoint to see if you can find, for example, traces of residue, nitrates that might indicate a high performance plastic explosive.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: But let's go back to these two black boxes for just a moment now and some of the other things. Did you hear anything else in the information that they were giving that caused your ears to perk up? You talked about the transponder acting properly. I mean, does any of that cause any--
MR. GROSE: No, they were proceeding normally just like Ken has mentioned. The thing is that it says to me the interesting thing yesterday was the little bit of sound on the end of the cockpit voice recording which was about 250 milliseconds, about a quarter of a second long, but they can do a lot with that to find its signature, we call it, in other words, the characteristic of that sound, and then they are going to compare that with the Lockerbie tape as well to see if there's commonality.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Well, based on what you just heard them say, did you have any sense that they learned anything about that--because this took place, what, about eleven and a half--
MR. QUINN: Minutes out.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: --minutes out into the flight, this sound?
MR. GROSE: I don't think they've learned a lot from yesterday, but when they find the engines and get them up--now there's four, four engines on that airplane, and if you can begin to eliminate after that with physical evidence, like he's already mentioned. For example, if the engines are all exactly the same condition, in other words, if one of the engines showed either disintegration or some kind of problem, that might lead us still to stay open with the idea of mechanical failure aboard the airplane. On the other hand, if, if they're all the same and also, it almost tends to eliminate the Stinger missile idea, because those are heat-seeking missiles, and they would go after not the belly of the airplane and blow it apart but they'd blow an engine apart, and you'd see that on the flight data recording. You'd also hear a report of the crew, I'm sure, on the cockpit voice recording. So we're going through a process of elimination.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: What do you suppose they're doing at this point with that voice recorder? What would be happening now? I mean, what happens next?
MR. QUINN: Well, they have a sound spectrum team that has been assembled, both the NTSB, the FAA, and I noticed also they're bringing our colleagues in from the investigation accident branch of the administrative transport from the secretary state of transport with the UK, some of whom may well have worked on the Lockerbie investigation, and try to do a comparative analysis, but, again--
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: So you heard that sound with the Lockerbie explosion?
MR. QUINN: It was, again, a sudden and abrupt end to the cockpit voice recorder and not only on Pan Am 103. Air India 182 in the Korean Airlines incident from 1987 off the coast of Burma, Air India also had a sudden and abrupt end, with no anomaly on the cockpit voice recorder and no anomaly from the flight data recorder, and then tragically crashed off the Irish Sea.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: He said something in that briefing too, also, about one of the sequences being found closer to where the engines were found. Does that mean anything to you?
MR. GROSE: I didn't hear that particularly but they've only found two engines. I think they've located two engines at the moment, neither one of which have been raised. But they'll find the other two engines. I'm pretty confident about that.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Now, the data's recorder--data recorders were contaminated by water. Is that likely to be a problem?
MR. QUINN: Well, any time there's contamination, it's a problem. It's can they work through the problem, and I'm highly confident they can. They--
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: And when he spoke of the contaminated area, was he talking about the contaminated area on the, on the data recorders, or--
MR. QUINN: Yeah. The contaminated tape on the flight data recorder which also had its pinger inoperative. It had been damaged somehow in the catastrophic event.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Did you hear anything else that we need to be--
MR. GROSE: No. I think we're progressing. I'd like to kind of endorse the progress. I know there's been a lot of public outcry that it's too slow. But having been in this business, myself, it's painstaking and it has to be systematic and careful. And that takes more time if you rush in, even if you're getting stuff off the bottom of the ocean, you're having, stirring up silt, as Mr. Francis already indicated, so we have to go at this systematically, as far as I'm concerned.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: How much longer do you think this might take, and what other kinds of things might come out of those flight data recorders, either the voice recorder or the information box?
MR. GROSE: I think more information will come out of the physical evidence, the airplane now. I think that the recorders--
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Than the flight--
MR. GROSE: Yes. Early on, the recorders I say would be 60 percent of the intelligence, if you had good things on it. However, we don't have anything on either recorder. So now you depend the next step on the physical evidence, the aircraft, and they'll be bringing up pieces and assembling it. They've already got a hangar at Drummond Aircraft there on Long Island. They'll begin to assemble, and it's much like you would a jigsaw puzzle.
MR. QUINN: Well, and we're all focusing on the actual physical evidence that exists here. At the same time they're doing that, the FBI and law enforcement and intelligence community worldwide is collecting mountains of evidence and taking it in from various human intelligence they have, intercepts that they may have, any threat information, or any other development that might lead one to either a terrorist act, a criminal act, or a spousal situation. Anything is possible once you have that, but I think they're inching very close for a declaration of sabotage.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Is that right? What other crucial pieces at this point would--if they were put in place, you would say, bingo, we've got it?
MR. GROSE: When you assemble the aircraft, like they do, generally, and they've done it with ValuJet, for example, you'd find whether there was explosive force. They look at the fragments, the fragmentation, the patterns like that, and they can tell whether it's external or internal. That would be an early discussion probably.
MR. QUINN: You'd also look at--a trace of nitrates we found in 103 on a metallic pallet, a trace of very high performance plastic explosives. You look through, there's very accurate gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, kinds of analysis that can be applied and pick up minute traces of any plastique or any other kind of improvised explosive device.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: So it could be within days?
MR. GROSE: Well, in Lockerbie, you were on land. And there's a big difference between buried or drowned evidence, if you like, versus land where it was available to you.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: So you don't know how long?
MR. GROSE: We don't know how long.
MR. QUINN: It took seven days in Lockerbie, and it's--we're well beyond that, so--
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: Okay.
MR. QUINN: --we'll have to be patient.
MS. HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Thank you both.
MR. QUINN: Thank you.