Engine discovery alters jet crash theory

Click to follow
AN ENGINE that fell off the El Al Boeing 747 which crashed in Amsterdam on Sunday night showed no evidence of damage by fire, birds or debris from its neighbouring engine, investigators said last night.

The engine, found in a lake on Monday, is No 4, the outer one on the starboard wing, and is set back from its neighbour. The failure of both engines on the same wing had prompted theories that debris from No 3 might have caused failure in No 4. That has now been ruled out and investigators will be trying to determine why a seemingly good engine fell off the aircraft, prompting more doubts about the 'fuse pins' that hold the engines to the wing and which were the subject of a service bulletin issued by Boeing on Tuesday.

There are also strong doubts whether both engines on that wing did, in fact, fall off. Two sections of the engine, rather than, as previously thought, two whole engines, have been recovered from the lake and it is thought that the second engine may have remained on the aircraft until it crashed.

The exhaust pipe or 'tail cone' was found separately, suggesting that it fell off before the engine itself, which may be why witnesses to the accident saw two objects falling from the aircraft.

The flight data recorder may have been so badly damaged that vital information has been lost. The recorder, commonly known as the 'black box', although it is usually orange, was found yesterday in the aircraft's tail by searchers at the site of the disaster.

The recorders are designed to withstand a temperature of 1,000C for half an hour, but the fire after the accident raged for several hours. Hans Scholten, a spokesman for the Dutch Aviation Authority, said that the box 'looked all right but it is not until the box is opened that we will discover whether the data is intact. We are pessimistic'. The chief crash investigator, Henk Wolleswinkel, said: 'We're crossing our fingers that we can get some useful information out of it.'

The box, which measures barely a foot (30cm) square, is being sent to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch at Farnborough, Hampshire, to be decoded.

If the flight recorder is functioning, it will allow investigators to trace the exact path the jet took during its 14-minute flight. The recorder measures about 30 variables, such as speed, altitude, bearing, engine temperature and position of the thrust power lever. The separate voice recorder, which keeps a record of the past 30 minutes of the crew's conversations, between themselves and with ground control, has not yet been found.

Meanwhile, the authorities at Schiphol airport, in Amsterdam, have confirmed the report in the Independent yesterday that the same Boeing 747-200F aircraft had suffered an engine fire, forcing it to land on three engines, on 24 July. A spokeswoman said the engine would have been replaced afterwards.

By mid-afternoon yesterday searchers had pulled only 33 of the estimated 250 dead from the rubble at the housing estate where the aircraft crashed. So far the sexes of six have been established and specialists in identifying accident victims had not yet been able to name any of the charred and mutilated bodies.

Amsterdam's Mayor, Ed van Thijn, said the 800 searchers, working in shifts, were on target to reach their goal of finishing the search for bodies by midnight tomorrow.