Tape, Interview Complicate Jet Crash Inquiry
Major inconsistencies developed Friday night among statements, recordings and other evidence being studied to determine why a Delta Air Lines jetliner crashed on takeoff here Wednesday killing 13 of the 108 aboard.
A cockpit voice recording and the statements of the flight engineer indicated Friday that the pilot and co-pilot correctly ascertained that the plane’s wing flaps and wing slats had been properly extended by them to provide the lift needed for takeoff.
However, physical evidence found in the wreckage indicated that the flaps on the back of the wings were not extended when the plane crashed.
Further complicating this situation, the slats on the leading edge of the wings were found Friday to be neither extended nor retracted but in a half-way position that could not be set by cockpit controls. This raised the possibility of mechanical malfunction in the deployment system.
Investigators Thursday discovered that the handle controlling the flaps was in the “up” position after the crash, not in the “down” position as might normally be expected, but stressed it could have been jarred during the crash or by crew members during evacuation.
The cockpit recording indicated that one of the cockpit crew shouted “Engine failure” twice as the big plane struggled to lift off from Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport on a flight to Salt Lake City. The flight engineer said he heard the shouts.
The recording picked up sounds that National Transportation Safety Board member Lee V. Dickinson Jr. said Friday night may have been a compressor stall or stalls in one or more of the Boeing 727’s three engines.
A compressor stall is a sudden interruption in the smooth flow of engine power that can result in a significant loss of thrust.
Finds No Damage
However, Dickinson, who is heading up the federal investigation, told reporters Friday night that a cursory examination of the exteriors of all three engines had revealed no evidence of damage.
Other investigators said Friday that one or more of the engines could have suffered a compressor stall or some other internal failure without necessarily showing any external evidence of it.
Two of the engines from the jetliner remained attached to the fuselage during the crash; the third was torn off as the plane slid along the ground.
All three engines were crated up Friday for shipment to the Hartford, Conn., plant of Pratt & Whitney, their manufacturer. They will be examined there in detail in the continuing effort to determine what caused the crash of Flight 1141.
Emergency Exit Studied
As investigators continued studying the wreckage, some focused on the closed emergency exit on the left side of the plane toward the back, near the galley.
Tarrant County Medical Examiner Nizan Peerwani said the bodies of seven passengers and two flight attendants were found “literally piled on top of one another in front of an exit door that apparently could not be opened.”
Federal investigators and Delta officials declined to speculate on whether the unopened exit was a factor in the deaths, but Dickinson said NTSB personnel are trying to determine whether the door was jammed. Other exits are also being studied, he said.
The jet had rolled some 8,500 to 9,000 feet down the 11,500-foot runway on Wednesday before lifting off unsteadily in its unsuccessful takeoff attempt, according to NTSB investigators.
Several veteran 727 pilots said this was not an unusually long rollout if the plane were fully laden. (The takeoff weight of the aircraft has not yet been determined.)
Most Lift Off Earlier
However, Dickinson said that his investigators watched about 10 Boeing 727s roll down the same runway on Friday and most of them lifted off at about the 5,000-foot point.
Dickinson stressed once again that it is still too early to pinpoint the causes of the crash, but attention continued to focus on two possibilities--engine failure and improperly deployed flaps and slats.
The transcript from the cockpit voice recorder that Dickinson detailed for the first time on Friday and the interview Friday with Flight Engineer Steven Mark Judd, the first member of the hospitalized crew to talk with investigators, did nothing to divert attention from those possibilities.
The pilot, Capt. Larry Lon Davis, 48, was in fair condition Friday at Parkland Memorial Hospital, while 1st Officer Carey Wilson Kirkland Jr., 37, was in stable condition at Northeast Community Hospital at Bedford. They will be interviewed later.
Dickinson said the cockpit transcript showed that during the pre-takeoff checklist, ticked off by Davis and Kirkland, one of them called out “Flaps?” And the other responded “15, 15 green light.”
Dickinson said the “15, 15" referred to 15-degree flap settings for each wing--normal for takeoff. He said the “green light” meant the instrument panel showed the settings on both wings were in agreement.
“Subsequent to this, as the airplane was continuing its takeoff roll, there were sounds of increasing engine noise,” Dickinson said.
“There was a callout of ’80 knots’ . . . and (a comment) that all the airspeed indicators were working. Shortly after that there were the letters VR and V2, callouts (indicating the plane was approaching takeoff speeds) followed by a stick shaker (a warning that the plane was in danger of a stall) and the comment ‘engine failure.’
Followed by Sounds
“This was followed by sounds that we believe may be compressor stalls, and then another comment that ‘We’ve got an engine failure!’ ” Dickinson said.
“Then we heard (the engine’s revving to) full power.
“Then we heard impact.”