Less than six minutes after ValuJet Flight 592 took off from Miami International Airport, someone opened the cockpit door to tell the apparently unsuspecting pilots about a fire in the passenger cabin of the DC-9.
National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Robert Francis offered that account Monday after a team of experts gave a preliminary listen to scratchy voices captured on the cockpit voice recorder during the final moments before the flight crashed into the Everglades on May 11.
“It appears that the cockpit door opened … and there were verbal indications from the cockpit that there was fire in the passenger cabin,” Francis said at NTSB headquarters here.
“There were also indications from the cabin that there were problems obtaining oxygen,” he added.
In the cockpit were pilot Candalyn Kubeck, 35, and co-pilot, Richard Hazen, 52. It is their communications with each other and possibly other crew members that investigators are trying to decipher on the tape that lay submerged in the Everglades for 15 days before it was recovered Sunday afternoon.
At the crash site Monday, additional pieces were recovered outside the main impact crater. Some of the material showed fire damage, according to NTSB spokesman Mike Benson in Miami.
Findings of the first two weeks of the NTSB investigation suggest the fire that doomed the DC-9 was possibly caused by, or at least accelerated by, old oxygen canisters that were being carried in a cargo bay beneath the passenger cabin. ValuJet was not authorized to carry the 119 still-filled canisters as cargo.
From pieces already recovered, the fire was so intense that it melted aluminum portions of a seat frame in the passenger cabin, the NTSB has said.
Monday’s news conference added no new light on the source of the blaze - but added some information about the brief, final flight of the Atlanta-bound ValuJet. The crash killed 110 passengers and crew.
Investigators displayed the shell of the cockpit voice recorder, a once fluorescent orange-colored box, also sometimes known as a “black box.”
The aluminum shell of the recorder showed a deep indentation that nearly punctured the lining. The damage was apparently caused by impact with another object during the crash, not an explosion, Francis said.