FAA Deletes Parts of USAir Crash Tape

From Associated Press

Air traffic control recordings of the USAir jetliner that crashed outside Pittsburgh, Pa., were so gruesome that federal officials took the rare step Friday of barring release of some sections of tape.

On Sept. 8, the USAir 737-300 rolled to the left and plunged about 6,000 feet into a wooded hillside, killing all 132 people on board.

A transcript of radio traffic between the plane’s crew and ground controllers reports someone in the crew saying “oh,” then something unintelligible, then “oh” again and an expletive as the plane begins to roll and dive. Then comes the final transmission from the plane, mostly unintelligible or deleted as “non-pertinent” except for the word “emergency” and, again, an expletive.


But the remainder of the recorded radio messages from the plane are listed as unintelligible or “non-pertinent” and were deleted from the tapes released by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Such air traffic recordings typically report only routine conversations between cockpit crews and airport towers in such circumstances. The unusual move Friday to bar public release of some portions of the tape was made “out of compassion for the surviving families,” said Drucella Andersen, an FAA spokeswoman.

Air traffic controllers customarily record their conversations with pilots. The tape recording of the minutes leading up to the crash reveals only routine discussions of directions, height, speed and which runway to approach.

Separate recordings of cockpit conversations are kept aboard aircraft and those tapes are in the hands of the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the accident.

The NTSB will hold a public hearing on the crash beginning Jan. 23 in Pittsburgh, and it normally releases a transcript of the cockpit recordings at such hearings. The NTSB does not release the recordings.