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Plane's Lack of Flight Recorders Hampers Detroit Crash Inquiry

March 06, 1987|JAMES RISEN | Times Staff Writer

ROMULUS, Mich. — The cause of Wednesday's crash of a twin-engine commuter plane that nearly plowed into a crowded terminal building at Detroit's Metropolitan Airport remained a mystery Thursday, and federal officials said their investigation was being hampered by the fact that the aircraft was not equipped with a cockpit voice recorder.

Jim Burnett, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and head of the agency's crash investigative team, said he had not yet been able to rule out any possible causes of the crash, which killed nine and injured 13.

Recorders Not Required

"There is no voice cockpit recorder, no flight data recorder, no surviving members of the flight crew, and a burned aircraft," Burnett said. "So this is going to be a very difficult investigation." Burnett noted that commuter aircraft are not required to carry on-board voice or data recorders.

The twin-engine turboprop aircraft, with 19 people on board, crashed after missing its assigned runway as it tried to land on a flight from Cleveland. The plane then flipped over and skidded down a taxiway before bursting into flames as it rammed into a group of food service trucks just 20 feet from a busy passenger loading area.

Both the pilot and first officer were killed in the crash, along with seven passengers. Ten others on board were injured, many burned by the fire. Three others, including food service workers trapped when the aircraft plowed into their trucks, were injured on the ground.

Earlier reports that 20 people were injured were incorrect, said James Vollman, director of the Wayne County Office of Public Service. All of the injured were expected to recover.

Burnett said investigators have been able to determine that the plane skidded 407 feet after hitting the ground 650 feet away from the center line of its assigned runway.

The federal crash investigation team was piecing together information from eyewitnesses and survivors, as well as from the charred wreckage of the plane. Burnett said that no one in the airport's tower saw the accident and that none of the airport's traffic controllers were aware that the plane was in trouble until it was already on fire.

Faulty Fuel Gauge

Burnett said that investigators found a flight log that noted that a fuel flow gauge had been giving erratic readings to a flight crew that had manned the aircraft earlier on the day of the crash. There was a memo in the log indicating that maintenance on the gauge was to be delayed, but Burnett would not say whether such evidence might be important to the investigation.

He said that three airline crew members, who were among the passengers, told investigators that they did not notice any problems on board until the aircraft was about 60 feet off the ground.

The off-duty flight crew said that the plane then banked sharply left, then right, and they noticed that the right engine was quiet. The next thing they recalled, Burnett said, was scrambling to get out of the burning wreckage.

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