Crash Probe To Remain Fully Staffed Officials Assure Families Investigation To Continue

SUNDAY, JULY 28, 1996

Up to 100 divers searched for bodies Saturday amid the scattered, sunken wreckage of TWA Flight 800 as the FBI confronted dual investigations in the waters off Long Island and at the Olympics.

Radar and flight data have raised suspicions that the Boeing 747 airliner was destroyed by a missile or bomb, and federal officials said the investigation would remain “fully staffed” despite the deadly blast in Atlanta.

The FBI has “not diverted anyone from here,” said Robert Francis, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

And the Navy said a second specialized salvage ship would arrive Monday to aid in the recovery of wreckage that might reveal additional clues to the explosion.

At a hotel where they are staying near Kennedy Airport, members of crash victims’ families were sympathetic of those injured by the pipe bomb at the Olympics.

“We are in the mood that we can understand how they are feeling,” said Marc Cayrol, 54, of Montpellier, France, who was awaiting word on the body of his 47-year-old brother Jacques.

Ten days after the Paris-bound flight exploded over the Atlantic, divers swam along the ocean floor looking for bodies and evidence in the second worst air disaster in U.S. history.

The official cause of the explosion remained unresolved and the “recovery of victims continues to take highest priority,” Francis said.

Of the 230 people killed, 143 bodies had been recovered. Divers had spotted more bodies tangled in the wreckage of shredded metal and wiring scattered along the sandy bottom, Francis said.

Lasers and video cameras were being used to scan the debris, Francis said.

Thus far, no physical evidence - such as chemical residue of explosives - has been found to confirm suspicions of sabotage.

In one of the strongest suggestions yet that the plane was destroyed by a bomb or missile, rather than a massive mechanical failure, the NTSB said Friday that data from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, the so-called “black boxes,” showed the flight was normal until the explosion.

The captain’s final words were a routine order to increase altitude. His order was followed by a loud sound, and the recording ended abruptly.

After the voice recorder stopped, the plane - or a large portion of it - remained visible on radar for an additional 41 seconds, officials said. Radar records indicate the plane was disabled at 13,700 feet, and the engines may have continued to run as the plane descended to 8,500 feet and burst into a fireball probably fed by jet fuel.

NTSB engineers said the flight data recorder ended abruptly without showing anything unusual, such as engine trouble or a sudden change in speed.

Because some witnesses have reported seeing a streak of light in the sky at the time of the explosion, the FBI is looking closely at the possibility a missile was used to bring down the plane.

Family members of the victims were assured the bombing at the Olympics wouldn’t undercut the Flight 800 investigation.

“We’ve got to ensure that they don’t feel like all the attention’s being diverted from this area up here and all the efforts are going to Atlanta,” said Don Jones, vice president of disaster services for the American Red Cross, who met with about 100 family members Saturday.

The Navy ship due to arrive Monday, the USS Grapple, is the sister ship of the USS Grasp, which the Navy brought in earlier to help in the search. The Grapple has equipment that can lift heavy pieces of wreckage such as the plane’s engines.

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