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Last Moments in Cockpit: A Faint Noise, Then Silence : Talk Gave No Hint of Problem

Associated Press

A mysterious “faint noise” abruptly ended the cockpit recording of the final moments of Pan Am Flight 103, with normal conversation among the crew before that indicating nothing was wrong up until the jumbo jet broke up in the sky and crashed, officials said today.

“There is nothing in the conversations (of the flight crew) to indicate anything was wrong,” said Paul McKie, Department of Transport spokesman.

“There is a faint noise at the end which needs a bit more analysis. There is no indication what that noise is. It would be quite wrong to jump to any conclusions,” he said.

Tapes Being Analyzed

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The cockpit recording and flight data tapes from the Boeing 747 were being analyzed by the department’s Air Accident Investigation Branch.

British and American investigators sifted through the crash debris today as relatives of some of the 258 victims aboard the jumbo jet gathered in a nearby town. Up to 22 people in the village of Lockerbie were killed.

The noise is heard on the recorder that preserves the last 30 minutes of conversation in the cockpit. The other recorder monitors flight data.

McKie said there was nothing abnormal on the tapes up to the moment they went silent. “There were no abnormal noises on the tape until the signals ended abruptly with the aircraft cruising at 31,000 feet.”

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No Evidence of a Bomb

Although U.S. embassies in Europe had received warnings that a Pan Am plane would be bombed, the chief British investigator at Lockerbie said no evidence of a bomb had been found yet.

Mick Charles of the Air Accident Investigation Branch told a news conference: “We have no evidence whatsoever yet of sabotage,” but added this did not mean sabotage was ruled out.

He said the spread of debris over many miles was “not unusual,” since the plane was six miles high and winds were 115 knots. “In these circumstances a lot of the debris is going to be sent a very long distance.”

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Frank Taylor, an aviation safety consultant and former investigator for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, said a cockpit recording that appears normal until the end could indicate that an explosion knocked out communications, electricity and perhaps even severed the cockpit from the aircraft. Taylor made his comments in Washington before cockpit data from the Pan Am flight was released.

Relatives Gather

While aviation experts were reluctant to provide details, it is generally known that an explosive device placed in certain areas of the baggage compartment of a Boeing 747 could wipe out computer, electrical and communications systems as well as possibly incapacitate the flight crew.

In Carlisle, 33 miles from Lockerbie, relatives of the 258 people who died on the Boeing 747 began gathering to identify the remains of loved ones.

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Townspeople stood in a heavy rain today solemnly reading the lists of their own missing.

About 70 bodies found by search parties still lay outdoors and about 80 were placed in a makeshift morgue in the town hall.

Speculation about a terrorist attack was fueled by a warning received Dec. 5 by the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, which U.S. sources believed was linked to the Abu Nidal group of Palestinian radicals.


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