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Airlift Begins to Bring Home Crash Victims' Remains

December 17, 1985|ERIC MALNIC | Times Staff Writer

GANDER, Canada — The remains of 20 of the 256 American soldiers and crew members killed in the crash of a chartered jetliner here last week were loaded with military ceremony aboard two cargo planes on Monday and flown home to the United States.

Their destination was the Armed Forces Pathology Institute in Dover, Del., where autopsies will begin in the continuing search for clues as to why the Arrow Air DC-8 crashed. The bodies of the other victims will be moved to Delaware today and Wednesday.

Cause Still Unknown

Peter Boag, chief investigator for the Canadian Air Safety Board, told a news conference that investigators still have no clear idea why the plane lost altitude after takeoff from Gander International Airport last Thursday and slammed into a lakefront forest a few hundred yards from the end of the runway, killing 248 soldiers and eight crew members.

Boag, disclosing some of the data recovered from the DC-8's flight recorder, said the plane had reached a maximum air speed of of 165 knots--well above the minimum required for a safe takeoff--before veering about 20 degrees to the right and plunging into the woods. The plane sheered off tree tops for more than 100 yards before impact, striking the ground tail first.

Boag said the maximum altitude reached by the plane--and the altitude at which it reached its maximum speed of 165 knots--have yet to be determined. But further study of the metal foil etching inside the "black box" recorder, which recorded the last minute and 40 seconds of the plane's movements before the crash, could provide additional evidence, he said.

Investigators are still trying to collect information from the cockpit voice recorder, which was damaged by fire after impact, Boag said.

The voice recorder "could have given us a record of the conversation between the pilots during takeoff," Boag said. "We don't have that. I don't know if we will get information from the voice recorder."

John Galipault, president of the independent Aviation Safety Institute in Columbus, Ohio, said during a telephone interview that the information released by Canadian authorities was still too scanty to draw any conclusions about the crash. But he said the 165-knot speed was "pretty low" for a DC-8 climbing after takeoff and "could indicate that there wasn't enough thrust from the engines."

"But there's a hell of a lot of variables," he said. "There's a lot of different things that could have gone wrong (and the low speed) . . . doesn't necessarily mean that any of the engines failed."

Engines Examined

The plane's four Pratt & Whitney JT-3 engines were recovered, relatively intact, from the crash site, and Boag said a "cursory examination" of them showed no evidence that any of them had exploded or caught fire prior to impact.

The engines--which will be transferred to Ottawa later this week for more detailed study--were being stored Monday in a hangar at the south end of the runway here.

It was the same hangar that has been used as a temporary morgue for the crash victims. The soldiers, all from the 101st Airborne Division, were returning home from a peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsula, where they monitored compliance with the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The crew members were employees of Arrow Air, a Miami-based charter company.

The two U.S. Air Force C-141 cargo planes being used to ferry the remains back to the United States arrived here at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

Sub-Freezing Winds

The planes carried 18 enlisted men from the 101st--men whose smart green dress uniforms fitted the solemn occasion but offered little protection from the sub-freezing winds as the soldiers carried the 20 flag-drapped coffins from the hangar to the aircraft.

Twenty great-coated men of the Canadian Forces stood at attention, saluting crisply, as each of the coffins was loaded into the planes.

By 1:30 p.m., both C-141s had taken off for the return flight to the United States. Both planes were expected to make four more round trips to Gander to pick up the rest of the remains, and ceremonies are to be held to a minimum.

Boag announced that briefings on the safety board's findings had come to an end, and by mid-afternoon, most of the news reporters, visiting dignitaries and Canadian officials had left Gander on the one daily direct flight to the North American mainland from Newfoundland.

Crash victims are mourned in Sinai service. Page 16.

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