Aircraft had faulty history

Swissair crash: Search for survivors abandoned as airline boss defends safety record
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THE MYSTERY over the Nova Scotia air crash grew deeper last night, as Canadian investigators released partial details of the last conversations between the pilot and air traffic control.

The Swissair flight 111 from New York to Geneva plunged into the sea after reporting smoke in the cockpit late on Wednesday night. All 229 passengers and crew - including Captain Urs Zimmermann and First Officer Stephan Loew - on the MD-11 were killed. No cause for the tragedy had been discovered, and investigators were refusing to speculate.

MD-11 aircraft were the subject of a directive in 1997 from the Federal Aviation Administration in the US. The directive concerned a wiring problem which could lead to a fire and prevent the pilot from controlling the aircraft. US airlines were required to fix the problem, but it was optional for foreign carriers. Swissair said it had corrected the problem. The FAA also recommended adding a cable guard to separate flight control cables from electrical wiring, and it was not known whether Swissair had carried this out.

There was no indication that the pilot lost control of the aircraft, said David Gerden, chief accident investigator. After sounding an alert over smoke in the cockpit, he did not indicate any further mechanical or electrical problems. The pilot remained calm and professional, and nothing in his conversations gave any clue to the crash. Though he repeated the alarm, he did not sound Mayday.

The plane was 58 miles from Halifax when the pilot first sounded the alarm, at 10.14 local time. The crew suggested proceeding to Boston, but decided to go to Halifax, as it was closer. They turned only once, towards Halifax, and descended rapidly from 33,000 feet to 10,000 feet. They then manouevred out over St Margaret's Bay to dump fuel, to descend further and to align themselves for landing, and crashed at 10.27.

More than 100 relatives and helpers were expected to arrive yesterday afternoon from Geneva, and dozens more had flown from New York. . Swissair paid $20,000 (pounds 12,500) to those bereaved familes who requested it, and arranged travel and hotel rooms. A secluded area was set up at the lonely, rocky cove near where the aircraft came down from which they could see the crash site.

Canadian authorities gave up the search for survivors yesterday, and concentrated on finding evidence about the crash.

US military divers joined the Canadian armed forces and police to search for wreckage and for the aircraft's black box flight recorders, but officials said they had not detected any signals from the boxes.

Police were testing debris to see if there was any evidence of explosives, but said that the bodies displayed no burning, indicating that the aircraft broke up when it hit the water at a shallow angle and did not explode.

The grim task of collecting bodies continued, hampered by harsher water and the dispersal of the wreckage. A hundred Canadian soldiers were searching. at Peggy's Cove.

Police said that they were disturbed to discover that unofficial divers and boats had arrived in the area, apparently individuals curious about the accident. Police said that any sightseers arriving in the search zone could be arrested.

The dead included many eminent figures, many with links to the United Nations. As well as Dr Jonathan Mann, who had headed the United Nation's anti-Aids programme, they included Yves de Roussan, a senior official of Unicef, Pierce Gerety, who headed a UN programme for refugees in central Africa and John Mortimer, a former senior vice president of the New York Times. The passenger list showed that whole families had perished.