Flight 990's flight data recorder recovered, brought to ship

Tuesday, November 9th 1999, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) -- Nine days after EgyptAir Flight 990 went down, the banged-up flight data recorder -- minus its "pinger" -- was raised from the ocean floor by a robot Tuesday and rushed to Washington for analysis.

Investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board began analyzing the tape immediately after it arrived by helicopter from
the crash site. Early readings were possible by late Tuesday if the tape was not damaged.

The minivan-size robot Deep Drone stumbled across the box amid weckage 250 feet below the surface. It was missing its pinger, the
transmitter that emits a signal to help investigators find the recorder after an accident. The tape could provide the best evidence of what caused the Boeing 767 to plunge into the sea Oct. 31 off the Massachusetts island of Nantucket, killing all 217 people aboard.

"It will paint a picture of the aircraft moments before the accident," NTSB chairman James Hall said. "In any aviation accident investigation, the most important information comes from the recorders." The flight recorder captures information from 55 different
systems on the jet, telling investigators such things as the plane's altitude, speed, spin, roll, when electrical power was cut off and how the autopilot functioned.

Deep Drone continued to search for the other "black box," the cockpit voice recorder, which contains tape of conversations
between crew members as well as discussions with air traffic controllers and any other sounds in the cockpit. Flight 990 took off from New York's Kennedy Airport bound for
Cairo and fell 33,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles south of Nantucket. No distress call went out from the crew. Investigators are looking into all possibilities, including mechanical failure, human error and sabotage. Deep Drone, a veteran of earlier plane disaster recoveries, came
across the bright orange flight data recorder about 5 a.m. and hauled it to the deck of the USS Grapple.

The remote-controlled robot had been focused on the pinging signal emitted by the recorder, but Navy technicians watching video of the wreckage spotted the recorder nearby and maneuvered the robot to retrieve it.

On deck, investigators were surprised to find the box was missing its pinger. The transmitter is installed outside the box so that its signal can be picked up better, but that means it can also become detached. In this case, the search for the other recorder was complicated
because it was unclear whether a pinging sound that technicians were picking up was from the still-missing black box or from the
detached transmitter.

Deep Drone succeeded after another more sophisticated and nimble underwater robot, Magnum, had to be repaired because a cable
holding and directing it was damaged. Both Magnum and Deep Drone have video cameras, spotlights and long claws to dig in the wreckage.


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