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Crashed jet's parts sent for analysis as first memorial held


In this story:

Co-pilot: Pilot did his best

Engines sent to Oklahoma for tests

Flight recorder, co-pilot reports differ

College student memorialized as hero

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June 5, 1999
Web posted at: 9:25 p.m. EDT (0125 GMT)
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CNN's Susan Candiotti reports Saturday from the crash site.
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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CNN) -- Salvage crews began dismantling the broken and charred shell of an American Airlines jetliner Saturday to send the parts for analysis, while mourners attended the first of several memorial services for the nine people killed when the plane crash landed.

Passengers and crew of Tuesday's Flight 1420 reported feeling as if the aircraft was sliding on ice before it ran off the runway of Little Rock International Airport, an investigator told CNN.

The plane's co-pilot, Michael Origel, told investigators the plane appeared to hydroplane upon landing, said Gregory Feith, a senior investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

That description conflicts with the opinion of a NASA expert who said the jet had a good grip on the runway, NTSB officials said. But investigators aren't ruling out the possibility that the plane slid after it touched down, Feith said.

Co-pilot: Pilot did his best

plane & crane
Salvage crews dismantle the plane  

Origel, who broke his leg in the crash, was released from the hospital on Saturday. He told investigators Friday that he believed Pilot Richard Buschmann, who died in the crash, took the necessary steps to land the plane safely.

Despite gusting winds and severe storms, the descent seemed fine until the plane touched down on a wet runway and couldn't stop, Origel told federal investigators.

"When he was talking about the approach segment, he said everything was normal. They knew where the thunderstorm activity was, but (the pilot) had the airport in sight and there was no perceived threat," Feith said of Origel's account.

"It wasn't until after touchdown when they were trying to stop the airplane that the directional control was lost," he said.

Engines sent to Oklahoma for tests

Airline salvage workers used a crane to load the MD-82's two jet engines onto a flatbed trailer. They were transported to an American Airlines facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for testing.

The crews then prepared the plane's wings and fuselage for removal.

"There are parts of the plane now that are obviously being covered by wreckage that we'd like to be able to get to when we lift the wreckage," said Matthew Furman, an NTSB spokesman.

"We'll be looking at the cable and wires that are attached to the spoiler, trying to determine, if we can, what position they were in at the time of impact."

Origel told investigators he thought the pilot moved the lever to activate the spoilers, which would have helped the plane brake as it landed.

Investigators said that the cockpit lever that sets the spoilers for landing was found in an unusual position. Also, the mechanical checklist operated by Origel displayed data for takeoff, instead of landing.

Feith said the crash or rescue efforts could have caused both irregularities.

Flight recorder, co-pilot reports differ

But the flight data recorder retrieved from the plane's wreckage indicated the spoilers did not deploy.

"We're still in the process of trying to identify sounds in the cockpit because of the issue of the spoilers not deploying. We're trying to identify the reasons they did not. That will come from the cockpit voice recorder," said Feith.

Flight data recorders also indicated the jet's thrust reversers -- used to slow the plane -- were turned on and off. The thrust reversers usually remain engaged until the plane slows to a speed at which the pilot can safely steer it on the ground.

Origel said he saw the captain activate the thrusters, shut them off, then activate them again. Because the engines on an MD-82 are close to the fuselage, engaging the thrusters affects how well the pilot can control the rudder, and turning them off gives the pilot better control, he told investigators.

College student memorialized as hero

A memorial service was held Saturday in the small town of Royal, near Hot Springs, Arkansas, for crash victim James Harrison, 21, a Ouachita Baptist University student who was returning from a choir trip.

"It was a service where we healed some of our hurt," said crash survivor and fellow student Misha Perkins, adding there were both tears and laughter during the private service attended by about 200. "I know James is not worse off, we may be."

Passengers said Harrison stayed on the smoked-filled plane and helped at least two badly injured victims escape.

"He died the way he lived, helping others," said Bill Ellis, dean of arts and sciences at Ouachita Baptist. "James could be alive today. He chose to help others."

American Airlines is offering $25,000 checks to survivors of the deceased. The money comes with no conditions, meaning people can accept them without giving up legal options.

Correspondent Susan Candiotti and The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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