Peggy's Cove, NS (off shore) Swissair Flight SR111 Jetliner Crash, Sep 1998
FLOTILLA COMBS WATERS OF BAY; 18 BODIES RECOVERED SO FAR.
WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN SAYS THERE'S NO EVIDENCE OF TERRORISM.
Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia -- (AP) -- A Swissair pilot reported smoke in the cockpit, dumped tons of fuel and attempted an emergency landing before his jetliner crashed off Nova Scotia, killing all 229 people aboard, including 136 Americans.
Flight SR111 from New York to Geneva plunged into the ocean late Wednesday night after leaving Kennedy International Airport at 8:17 p.m. It carried 215 passengers -- including two infants -- and 14 crew.
The plane disappeared from radar screens 30 miles south of Halifax International Airport.
Philippe Bruggisser, chief executive officer of Swissair's parent group, said today that the 136 Americans were the largest single group aboard the plane. Some 30 French and 28 Swiss citizens were on board, he said.
The pilot had asked for permission to land in Boston, then decided to go on to Halifax, said Walter Vollenweider, a Swissair official in New York. Vollenweider said he had no indication why the pilot made that choice.
Those on the ground reported hearing sputtering noises from an aircraft passing overhead and then a thundering crash.
"The motors were still going, but it was the worst-sounding deep groan that I've ever heard," said witness Claudia Zinck-Gilroy.
Dozens of fishing boats and coast guard ships immediately headed out in driving rain to the crash site, about six miles off the coast of Peggy's Cove, a picturesque fishing village popular with tourists.
By this morning, 18 bodies had been recovered.
"We knew it was an explosion, there was a silence for two seconds after the explosion, then my ears popped," said Darrell Fralick, 26, a resident of Peggy's Cove. "At that split second, I looked at my watch it was 10:35, I don't know why I looked at my watch, I just did."
Bill Berry, speaking for Delta in Atlanta, said the "best information available" was that 53 Delta passengers were on the flight, which the two airlines shared in a partnership.
President Clinton was told about the plane's disappearance before leaving Moscow, where he had attended a summit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He was updated again during a flight to Northern Ireland.
DR. JONATHAN MANN, a former professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and a pioneer in the fight against AIDS, was among the dead, along with his wife, according to Dr. Peter Piot of the U.N.
The United Nations said about 10 U.N. workers returning to headquarters in Geneva also were believed to be on board.
Swissair said the passenger list will not be released until family members are notified.
An oil slick, life preservers and other debris from the downed aircraft spread out over six miles, said Roy Bears, an aviation safety investigator. Divers were using sonar to map the debris field and try to locate the black box in 150 feet of water, he added.
Ships and helicopters could be seen from shore through the light must, about six miles offshore. Dozens of police, rescue workers and residents stood on the rocky granite coast watching the rescue effort.
Debris from the aircraft was found off Clam Island and other islets between Peggy's Cove and Blandford, 20 miles southwest of Halifax.
Lt. Cmdr. Mike Considine of the Search and Rescue Center in Halifax said rescue crews were searching for the aircraft seven miles off Peggy's Cove. Local fishermen were called to the area because they are familiar with the waters.
There were four rescue planes, four helicopters and a Canadian navy ship, said Tracy Simoneau, speaking for the Canadian navy.
"They are reporting that they have located debris, but they are unsure if it's from the aircraft. They also report an oil slick and a strong smell of oil. They have not found the fuselage," Simoneau said.
She said civilian rescuers were at the scene within minutes of the crash.
"(The debris) is spread out over a very large area," said John Campbell, a charter boat captain, calling from his boat.
Soon all of the available ships from this small fishing community, accustomed to making rescues in the often violent North Atlantic, converged on the crash site. Coast Guard helicopters hovered overhead and a navy refueling ship, the HMCS Preserver, steamed into the bay.
"It's real ugly," said Craig Sanford, operator of a whale-watching boat that was one of the first vessels on the scene. "You see styrofoam floating, chunks of wood, panels, the odd body here and there. It's not a nice scene."
On shore, firefighters paced the beach near the crash sight, behind them more than a dozen ambulances lined up to treat survivors and take them to hospitals. They waited in vain.
"We are continuing to consider this a rescue effort," said Grant Lingley, speaking for the regional emergency health services, about five hours after the crash. But he admitted that hospital officials had sent their extra staff home.
At the airports in New York and Geneva, grief counselors were on hand for relatives of the crash victims. A special lounge was set up in the Delta Air Lines terminal at Kennedy Airport.
A piece of paper attached to the Geneva airport's arrivals board, which at first said the flight was "delayed," directed all those concerned with the flight to the information desk.
Matt Furman, speaking for the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, said the U.S. Agency sent a team of 10 people to Canada this morning.
Furman said the investigators are going as support to their Canadian counterparts. They were invited to participate under an international treaty because this is an American made plane.
He said they will first concentrate on recovering the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder.
U.S. authorities have been concerned about possible retaliation after missile strikes on terrorist installations in Afghanistan and Sudan.
"We have no indication that terrorism was involved in the Swissair crash", said P. J. Crowley speaking for the White House.
Nonetheless, New York Mayor Rudolph Giulani said the FBI was also investigating, "as they should."
It was the first crash of a Swissair plane since Oct. 7, 1979, when one of its DC-8s overshot the runway in Athens, Greece, while attempting to land and burst into flames. Fourteen people were killed.
Speaking to reporters at the Geneva airport, Georges Schorderet the chief financial officer of parent company SAirGroup, said the plane was put into service in August 1991 and was overhauled in August and September last year. It had been checked as all are before takeoff, he added.
"This airplane was in perfect working order," Schorderet said.
Syracuse Herald Journal New York 1998-09-03