Navy divers combing the Potomac River wreckage of the crashed Air Florida jetliner yesterday recovered all but the last of the 78 bodies. Meanwhile, salvage work moved rapidly enough that the northbound lanes of the center span of the 14th Street bridge will likely reopen by Monday morning.
Six bodies were pulled from the river yesterday and searchers said they will continue scanning the riverbed for the last victim, an infant, as the salvage operation continues this morning.
The divers also are still looking for a wing tip of the Boeing 737 jetliner, landing gear, an engine and assorted other debris, according to D.C. police spokesman Gary Hankins. Cranes hoisted one portion of the fuselage to the surface yesterday, as well as a wing flap and a set of seats.
Hankins said that as the salvage operation nears completion in the next few days, the large cranes that have been stationed on the northbound lanes of the expressway leading into the District of Columbia from Virginia will be removed from the bridge.
He said, however, that some salvage equipment may be kept on the southbound express lanes that are used by car pools and Metrobuses in the evening rush hours. As a result, those lanes may remain closed longer. About 145,000 vehicles cross the three 14th Street bridge spans daily and thousands of commuters enter the city on the center express span.
Hankins said the remaining debris on the riverbed is widely scattered, much of it shredded into bits and pieces. Divers, using 4-by-5-foot wire baskets drawn by cables, may continue to search the river's bottom for another week, he said.
"There almost will be a square-foot by square-foot search," Hankins said.
The Air Florida jetliner clipped the northbound span of the bridge and plunged into the river in a blinding snowstorm within a minute after liftoff from National Airport a week ago Wednesday, killing 74 passengers and crew members and four people in cars on the bridge.
While salvage workers continued to search the Potomac for the infant's body and more of the debris from the wreckage, National Transportation Safety Board investigators listened to the cockpit voice recording and started to collect information on the aircraft's operation from the flight data recorder, which measures the plane's air speed, bearing and altitude, among other things.
Investigators have revealed little information about what they have learned so far from the two instruments. But Francis H. McAdams, the NTSB member who is overseeing the investigation, told the CBS Morning News that he had twice listened to the cockpit voice recording and did not hear any calls of distress from the flight crew.
"Some of the crew's conversation is rather clear and others is overridden by noises. And some of it is unintelligible," McAdams said in a Today show interview on NBC-TV. "You can hear the engine start to rev up and finally reach what sounds like takeoff power, but I don't think it's an unusual noise."
McAdams also said that he did not hear the flight crew mention anything about ice on the wings or fuselage of the Boeing 737. Experts have said that ice, particularly on the wings, may have hindered the takeoff. Ice can change the contours of the wings and dramatically limit their lifting ability.
At a briefing later yesterday, however, McAdams said that his interview comments referred not to the Flight 90 cockpit tape but to what can generally be heard on all cockpit tapes.
Meanwhile, federal investigators have disclosed that Flight 90 may have taken off up to 1,300 feet farther down the runway than it was supposed to, which would indicate that it might have had trouble gaining power.
McAdams said three witnesses have told investigators that they believe the jet lifted into the air after it went about 5,200 feet or farther down the 6,869-foot runway. The normal point of liftoff is at about 3,900 feet. McAdams also said the safety board is running computerized simulations of takeoffs under various weight and runway conditions.
Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-Calif.), chairman of the aviation subcommittee of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, Wednesday gave an accounting similar to McAdams' description of the cockpit voices. But yesterday Mineta said he had been briefed by McAdams only on the control tower tapes, which also do not show any indication of a distress call from the plane's pilot, Larry Wheaton, 34, or copilot, Roger Pettit, 31, both of Miami.
McAdams said one group of investigators is listening over and over to the cockpit recording to get a clear picture of what was said during the short flight. "If necessary," he said, "they'll run it 50 times" to pick up a single word.
Safety board officials say they expect it will be some time before information from the recorders can be fully analyzed for clues to the cause of the crash. More than 125 witnesses have been interviewed so far and crash investigators have been examining the debris that has been taken to National Airport's Hangar 12.
However, not all of the wreckage has been taken to either the hangar or the safety board's Southwest Washington headquarters. The Pentagon announced that it has recovered "less than 10" classified documents with low- or medium-range security ratings of "confidential" or "secret" that were being taken to MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa.
They were being carried on the jetliner by two members of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force and three members of the Readiness Command stationed at the Florida air base, all of whom were killed in the accident.
The victims identified yesterday were Col. Edward Cobb, 46, of St. Petersburg; Robert L. Essary, 50, of Gaithersburg, a senior program manager for Fairchild Industries Inc.; Lt. Col. George G. Mattar, of Tampa; Theodore H. Smolen, 48, of Gaithersburg, a manager of quality control for a Fairchild division; Robert V. Trexler, 39, of Middletown, Md., a test operations manager for Fairchild; David Boer of Boston; James Erickson of Georgia; and Marion Player, 57, of St. Petersburg.
The D.C. medical examiner's office said Smolen died from the impact of the crash. One survivor of the accident, Joseph Stiley, said earlier this week that he thought Smolen was the so-called "sixth survivor" clinging to the aircraft in the Potomac in the moments after the crash as a helicopter crew attempted rescues. Autopsies so far have found only one victim, Arland D. Williams of Atlanta, who drowned in the accident.
The crew said they saw a passenger selflessly passing a lifeline to other victims in the water before perishing. That passenger has not been identified. There has been speculation that that person might have been Smolen, but the cause of his death casts doubt on that possibility. Williams, on the other hand, had a beard and the crew said the "sixth survivor" did not.
Interior Secretary James G. Watt announced that today he will award the Interior Department's highest medal, the Valor Award, to the helicopter's crew, pilot Donald W. Usher and paramedic M.E. (Gene) Windsor, for their role in the rescue effort.