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Breaking News

Alaska Airlines Flight 261: Flight Data Recorder Has Been Recovered

Aired February 3, 2000 - 3:26 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to take you to Port Hueneme, California, where the National Transportation Safety Board we believe is about to announce the location of the flight data recorder from the ill-fated Alaska Air Flight 261. John Hammerschmidt, the spokesman, is standing behind the speaker right now. He will be accompanied by the chief investigator and the vice admiral of the Navy in reporting this news. Let's listen in.

JOHN HAMMERSCHMIDT, NTSB: Thank you, Ted, and good afternoon.

At last night's press briefing we closed it with what we thought then was good news that we had located the pinger of the flight data recorder. Right now the flight data recorder has been located and is on its way up to the vessel Kellie Chouest, so it has been recovered. The same vessels -- the same vessel, the Kellie Chouest and the remote operated vehicle Scorpio were the same combination that had retrieved the cockpit voice recorder yesterday. So this is very good news, and we just wanted to report this as it is breaking.

In fact, at this press briefing we will just basically limit it to the recovery of the flight data recorder. As Ted indicated, there will be an opportunity later in the day at which time we can get into more of the investigation side of the questions you will have. So, with me of course is Captain Terry Labrecque of the United States Navy, and we will open it up for questions.

Mr. Rochelle.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Can you tell us if we have seen any pictures, if you have seen any pictures from the bottom, what you are looking at down there now that you've got the second one up? And are you going to now move into trying to recover other parts of the aircraft, the tail section, have you identified them, have you located any of those sections, the cockpit?

HAMMERSCHMIDT: Well, the next stage in terms of the U.S. Navy's work at the accident site is to begin the process of the detailed mapping of the wreckage area, and that will begin at some point soon. In terms of what we have seen as far as the video from the remote operated vehicle, Captain Labrecque, would you wish to address that? I don't have any information on that myself.

CAPT. TERRY LABRECQUE, U.S. NAVY: We don't have that information.

HAMMERSCHMIDT: We don't have that information at this point for you. In terms of the wreckage layout and what our structures working group chairman, who is aboard the Kellie Chouest and who is monitoring all the video that's being taken down below the ocean, he has not recorded actually the details of what he is seeing in terms of the wreckage distribution, in terms of where the pieces of the wreckage may be situated vis-a-vis each other.

ROCHELLE: Excuse me. May I follow up, please? Excuse me. May I follow up? You will not -- you say you will not try to recover any of the additional pieces or parts until you have mapped that, that will be done first?

HAMMERSCHMIDT: Yes, and we've been reporting that, that will be a first step, is to basically videotape and map the wreckage before proceeding to the next phase in terms of the recovery of individual pieces of the wreckage. That will all be done in a very logical process, as it has been done in some very high-profile previous investigations.

QUESTION: Can you tell us...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

HAMMERSCHMIDT: No. As indicated, we do not have that actually in our hands as yet. It is on its way up to the vessel as we speak. It may actually be off-loaded onto the Kellie Chouest vessel at this point.

We just wanted to report this very good news, that we have located and retrieved the flight data recorder, and this is a very important step, positive step in this investigation.

QUESTION: Have you shared with the families? And if so, what kind of a reaction comes from a typical grieving family when these pieces of the puzzle start to come together?

HAMMERSCHMIDT: I'm not in a position to address that at this point. In terms of the families being informed, we thought that by disseminating it here -- do we know if. Yes, yes. Concurrently with this press briefing, the families, it's our understanding, are being informed of this development.

QUESTION: Can you tell us where it was found?

Captain Labrecque, why don't you answer that question.

LABRECQUE: It was found within the last hour, and I can't give you an exact position, but it was within about 200 feet of the first one.

QUESTION: Two hundred feet?

LABRECQUE: Easily. Well, we do it with this remotely operated vehicle. At this point, we use a visual search, and when it was not located, what we did was we marked the pinger's location and began to move out in a 200-foot area, and set it into quadrants, and it's literally an eyes search. It took a while, it took most of the night, but we did come across it, but it's within that same area.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ... what the aircraft looked like? Did it appear to be stressed? Or is it in one piece? Or is it...

LABRECQUE: I can't give that information.

QUESTION: Have you located the tail section of the aircraft?

LABRECQUE: No.

We'll bring it right into port, and it's going to go straight to Washington D.C.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ... the victims, and maybe how long it might take.

LABRECQUE: No, I can tell you that the priority now is to map the debris field. We really can't do anything logically until we know exactly what's there, what the pattern, how big it is. Then we'll be directed by NTSB to focus on certain structural components that they need to be brought up first.

ROCHELLE: Captain, can you clarify on the pinger the distance? Was it 200 -- the FDR was found 200 feet from the CDR? How far from the pinger that had separated from it? Can you...

LABRECQUE: We've been looking -- I don't know for sure. Part of the problem is the ROV we are using, that vehicle does not have its own navigational-positioning system on it. We have a better ROV which will go out this afternoon that does. So if you can visualize, the ship on the surface knows exactly where it is, and the ROV, as it moves around underwater, does not have an exact position. The one that goes out this afternoon does. So that one, we will know at all times exactly where on the face of the Earth it is.

WATERS: The NTSB and the Navy quickly revealing the latest information about the crash of Alaska Air Flight 261. That's the location within the past hour. But the flight data recorder, which you just heard explained, was separated from its pinger, which took so long to find it. They found it during the night. It was recovered within the past hour, as I mentioned. It is now on its way to Washington, where the cockpit voice recorder is already being analyzed. That was pick up last evening, not separated from its its pinger.

The next step, mapping of the wreckage area, then the recovery.

We'll keep you posted all along the way.

I'm Lou Waters at CNN Center. We'll take break. "TALKBACK LIVE" after the break.

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