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Large Piece of Egyptair 990 Jetliner’s Wreckage Located

By Don Phillips
THE WASHINGTON POST -- NEWPORT, R.I.

Authorities Monday gave up hope of finding survivors in the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990, but Coast Guard search crews found a large piece of wreckage and heard what may be a radio signal from one of the aircraft’s flight recorders.

Only a day after the jetliner plunged into the Atlantic off the coast of Massachusetts, National Transportation Safety Board officials said the possible discovery of at least one of the plane’s “black boxes” gave a spark of hope to what otherwise will be a long and difficult investigation.

NTSB Chairman Jim Hall said Monday that nothing has been ruled out as a possible cause of the crash, and the FBI is continuing to review lists of passengers and maintenance crews who had contact with the aircraft. The bureau also is bringing lab and bomb technicians to the scene to assist in the investigation.

Among the passengers on the downed plane were two Egyptian generals, members of what U.S. officials said was a Ministry of Defense delegation of about 30 military personnel who had been in the United States discussing helicopter contracting issues. The passengers also included 106 Americans, 62 Egyptians and 22 Canadians.

The Boeing 767 plunged from 33,000 feet into the Atlantic early Sunday without a distress call from the crew -- making an unusually steep dive of 23,200 feet per minute and falling to 19,100 feet in 36 seconds, according to preliminary radar data. The plane’s transponder stopped operating and reporting altitude at that point.

Hall cautioned that even if crews quickly recover the black boxes, information about the crash would still be slow in developing because the wreckage is located in about 250 feet of water -- twice the depth of the 1996 wreckage of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 -- limiting diving at the site. High winds and strong rains were predicted to hit the search area Tuesday afternoon, and sophisticated Navy search ships were still on their way to the site, making a swift recovery of bodies and wreckage unlikely.

Still, searchers found what investigators described as a large piece of the aircraft that will require a crane to remove it from the water. Crews also have collected an assortment of clothing, purses and other personal items of passengers, but so far none of it has any burn marks that might indicate a fire or explosion, investigators said. The Coast Guard planned to continue its search before undersea recovery using Navy ships begins.

“Factual information may not be developed as fast as the press may like,” Hall said at a briefing. He added the recovery of bodies “may be more extended than before.”

This is more bad news for family members of the 217 passengers and crew who died on the plane, which took off at 1:19 a.m. EST Sunday from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York for Cairo. It disappeared from radar at 1:52 a.m. EST.

The potential good news is that investigators may be on the track of one of the two black boxes from the 767. A cutter heard the telltale “pinging” signal Monday, but Hall said it will be at least 36 hours before ships will be on scene and ready to pinpoint the signal and possibly begin recovery operations.

Recovery of the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder is very important because the plane and crew provided few other clues.