Bodies Recovered From Inside Kenya Jet

The Associated Press
Thursday, May 10, 2007; 1:14 PM

DOUALA, Cameroon -- Recovery teams working in the swamp where a Kenya Airways passenger jet crashed began removing bodies from the plane's submerged fuselage for the first time Thursday.

Investigators were focusing initially on the pilot's decision to take off despite predictions a thunderstorm would last up to an hour more, an official familiar with the inquiry said. The Nairobi-bound Boeing 737-800 nose-dived into a swamp seconds after taking off Saturday from an airport, killing all 114 people on board.

"Why did other planes wait for the storm to pass and not him? That's the question," said the Cameroonian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The pilot waited an hour because of weather, but Douala airport had predicted the storm would last for another hour. The official said the pilot of a Royal Air Maroc jetliner that was next to take off waited another 45 minutes after the Kenya Airways flight left and encountered no turbulence.

According to aviation regulations, cockpit crews are free to take off in bad weather unless the local flight control takes extraordinary measures such as temporarily closing the airport.

The crash left most of the plane submerged in a swamp near the airport at Douala, a coastal city that is Cameroon's main commercial hub.

Recovery teams have been hampered by the mud and water and the more than 40-hour delay in finding the plane. Alain Mebe-Ngo'o, Cameroon's director general of national security, said the bodies recovered earlier had been those thrown free of the plane.

Officials on Thursday also were taking DNA samples from relatives gathered in Cameroon to help identify the remains.

Jim Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, which sent seven experts to help with the investigation, said it was vital to determine exactly what went wrong because the accident involved a 737-800, the most modern version of Boeing's family of short- to medium-distance jets.

"The 737-800 is the latest version of the world's most popular airliner," Hall said in a telephone interview from Washington. "Any malfunction could have very wide implications."

Two representatives from Boeing were due to join the investigators, said Lonnie Kelley, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon.

The flight data recorder has been recovered but still needs to be decoded. The cockpit voice recorder has not yet been found.

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