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Gators, Muck, Sharp Grass Hamper Recovery Efforts

Sun., May 12, 1996, midnight

Alligators, snakes, muck, jet fuel, water, razor-edged sawgrass and a remote site. All will make the recovery of plane parts and bodies from ValuJet Flight 592 a long and daunting task.

“The situation in that environment would be probably the worst situation you could deal with,” said Fort Lauderdale Fire Department Battalion Chief Paul Sparks, who has been trained to rescue air crash survivors.

The remains of the DC-9 and its passengers are submerged in water. Much of it is buried in the black muck. And officials at the scene said Saturday the plane is in hundreds of tiny pieces.

“There’s really nothing above ground that looks like a plane,” said Metro-Dade Lt. Chris Aguirre. He saw hundreds of pieces scattered in the area, as small as his hand and as large as 6 feet wide.

Everglades researcher George Dalrymple said crews trying to recover pieces of the wreckage face dense sawgrass 4 or 5 feet tall atop an ooze of black muck 3 to 4 feet deep.

“Walking a quarter of a mile in that is just about unbearable,” Dalrymple said. “You sink down to your hips and you’re being cut by sawgrass, and the heat is just unbearable. After about a quarter of a mile, you’re just too worn out to go on.”

Dalrymple’s crews wear jungle boots and snakeproof leggings, as well as gloves.

“There’s a lot of alligators, a lot of cottonmouths. If you grab the sawgrass, it’s going to rip your hands to shreds,” he said.

The water “is just black,” said Steve Coughlin, a Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission biologist familiar with the area. “It’s going to be difficult just to find anything under it.”

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