Hopes dashed over TWA crash victims

Click to follow
Relatives of the victims aboard TWA flight 800, unimpressed by the riot of speculation concerning the cause of the crash, are being driven to despair by the slow pace of the recovery of the bodies and, worse, by the false hopes generated by seemingly irresponsible officials.

George Pataki, the governor of New York, suggested on Tuesday that 100 bodies might be recovered in the next few days. But he was roundly contradicted by Robert Francis, vice-chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, who said: "There are no bodies that we have discovered that have not been recovered."

By yesterday, a week after the Boeing 747 exploded in mid-air, 111 bodies had been recovered from the Atlantic ocean and 119 still remained unaccounted for. This despite the fact that Mr Francis and other officials heading the investigation into the disaster have insisted that their main priority is to find all the missing bodies.

"It's been a roller-coaster," said Frank Ortiz, who lost a niece in the crash. "This morning they say they found so many bodies and then we come here and they say they found only six bodies."

Dottie Brier, a counsellor helping the bereaved families, said: "That kind of confusion is very, very bad for people ... Their hopes went up and came down."

Many of the relatives of the dead have been gathered since last week at a hotel near John F Kennedy airport in New York. Yesterday a group of 20 French relatives gave a press conference outside the hotel to complain about the slowness of the search for bodies. They wept, they shouted, the incoherence of their rage compounded by their difficulties speaking English.

"They say we find a lot of bodies and it is not true, they are not finding bodies," said Michel Oliver. "It's a politics thing, it's a politics story. I want my brother. I don't want politics. Everything is like this, every day, every day, every day..."

Mr Oliver appeared to be blaming Governor Pataki, who has been a fixture on national television since the crash on 17 July, for playing to the gallery. He might have been more appalled had he been keeping an eye on events in Washington where already, this being an election year, the Republican Party is seeking to score political points off the tragedy.

"President Clinton has not provided leadership on this issue. He has almost dropped off the scene," said Larry Presler, a Republican senator. What was more, the senator complained, the President had failed to act on known terrorist threats to upgrade security in American airports.

The senator, in common with many Americans, was jumping the gun. No evidence has yet been turned up to indicate the aircraft was blown up by terrorists. Whether any such evidence will ever turn up remains an open question. More than 98 per cent of the aircraft's wreckage is still on the ocean floor and as every day passes the possibility recedes of forensic investigators discovering the chemical residues which might help indicate whether a bomb, or indeed a missile, destroyed the 747.

Yesterday the number of divers on the scene doubled to 120 and navy vessels arrived equipped with sophisticated sonar detection devices and robot-operated underwater video cameras.