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Airliner’s ‘Black Box’ Returned Flight Recorder Was Among Items Looted After Crash

Sat., Sept. 6, 1997

Farmers returned a looted flight recorder to investigators probing the deadly crash of a Vietnam Airlines jet Friday, heeding an appeal broadcast on radio and television.

Aviation officials said recovery of the flight recorder - plundered by hundreds of villagers who rifled the pockets of victims and made off with scrap metal from the wreckage - could prove essential to learning the cause of Wednesday’s crash.

Repatriation of the 65 victims - most from Taiwan and South Korea - was to start today. The only known survivors were a Vietnamese boy and a Thai toddler.

Vietnam Airlines flew grief-stricken family members for free to Phnom Penh, where they mourned their dead in a daylong religious ceremony Friday at a hospital lecture hall converted into a morgue.

Incense helped mask the smell of bodies rotting in a heat beyond the control of an overworked air conditioner; grieving relatives fainted in the stifling atmosphere. The room was too small to hold all 65 bodies, and eight coffins rested outside.

A family living near Wednesday’s crash site, a stretch of rice paddies about a half-mile south of Pochentong International Airport, recovered the black box and brought it to a television station. The farmers claimed a $200 reward.

It was unclear how the “black box” came into their possession, but looting had been widespread at the crash site, with some police officers joining the crowds scavenging among luggage and bodies of victims.

Sith Sakal, head of the civil aviation authority’s security department, said the box was broken, apparently by villagers pounding the box with metal to try to open it. The tape inside was still in good condition.

Two of the aircraft’s three black boxes have now been recovered. Cambodian and Vietnamese investigators are still discussing which country they will be sent to for examination.


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