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Downed Swissair Jet's Gaming System Shows Burned Wiring

By Don Phillips
The Washington Post

Investigators discovered evidence of fire and electrical damage in the wiring of Swissair Flight 111's in-flight entertainment and gambling system, prompting the airline Thursday to disconnect it on its other planes.

Sources close to the probe of the Sept. 2 crash said all the insulation was burned off three of the four sets of wires coming from the sophisticated system, located above and behind the cockpit, and there was clear evidence of electrical arcing, or sparks. A preliminary investigation has raised concerns about the amount of heat that the cutting-edge electronics produces, as well as the manner in which it was connected to the aircraft's main electrical power, the sources said.

Swissair and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said in brief statements that there is insufficient evidence so far to determine whether the wiring played a role in the New York-Geneva flight's plunge into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 229 onboard. The Canadian board said it is possible the damage was "merely the byproduct of other events" on the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 jet.

Although the Canadian safety board said that this particular system was "unique to the Swissair fleet," sources said investigators and regulators want to take a new look at onboard video and gaming systems that some airlines are installing on long-distance jets to woo customers.

The burned wiring was found among debris dredged from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean just off Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia. The MD-11 slammed into the ocean about 16 minutes after the crew reported smoke in the cockpit and donned oxygen masks.

Investigators still do not know why the plane crashed. But sources said a clear heat and fire damage pattern is emerging, with no fire or heat damage noted in most parts of the aircraft so far. The damage area begins in the instrument panel above the pilots' heads, stretching back to the roof area over the front doors of the passenger cabin where the in-flight entertainment system is located.