Searchers using U.S. Navy scanning equipment have located wreckage of a South African Airways jumbo jet deep in the Indian Ocean two months after it crashed, killing 159 people, authorities said Friday.
The broken fuselage of the Boeing 747 was found Thursday at a depth of 14,400 feet, the U.S. Embassy said. The discovery raised hope of finding the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders, which may hold important clues to the cause of the crash.
The embassy said it was told of the discovery by U.S. Navy Capt. Tom Ingersoll, who heads a team helping South African searchers with special sonar scanning and photographic equipment.
Debris Scattered Widely
The South African Department of Transport Services described the discovery as "a debris field," located about 200 miles north of the island of Mauritius and extending for about 1,320 feet along the seabed.
Rennie van Zyl, a spokesman for South Africa's civil aviation department, said recovery of any part of the plane would not be possible until at least May. He said contacts have been made with the owners of a French submarine, the Nautile, which dove 13,200 feet during the search for the wreckage of the Titanic.
The jetliner crashed on Nov. 28 about 10 minutes before it was due in Mauritius to refuel en route from Taiwan to Johannesburg, resulting in the worst accident in South African aviation history.
The pilot, Capt. Dawie Uys, had radioed to the Mauritius control tower that there was smoke in the aircraft. Also, the condition of the 11 human remains and debris found during a five-nation search after the crash indicated that there may have been an explosion.
Among those aboard the jumbo jet when it crashed were 71 South Africans, including 19 crew members, 47 Japanese and 30 Taiwanese. All those aboard were killed.
Van Zyl said a request by the South African government for assistance from the U.S. Navy was made two days after the crash and that a contract was approved Dec. 4. He did not know its cost.
Search by Experts
Experts aboard the South African ship Omega 801 have been searching for the plane more than 100 miles north of Mauritius, an island nation 1,600 miles northeast of South Africa.
Last month, they abandoned the search for radio signals given off by the flight data and cockpit voice recorders. The "side-scanner" sonar search for debris, using the U.S. Navy equipment, began Monday, Van Zyl said.
Also on Friday, South African Transport Services Minister Eli Nander M. Louw announced the formation of a board of inquiry to investigate the cause of the crash.