Air safety investigators failed this week to recover the "black boxes" from the wreckage of an Eastern Air Lines plane buried in snow on a Bolivian mountaintop, but succeeded in lifting pieces of a crashed Air India jetliner from the floor of the Atlantic.
Two members of a six-person U.S. team reached the Eastern plane after a two-day climb to the 22,000-foot peak near La Paz, U.S. officials said.
With limited digging equipment, the two, including National Transportation Safety Board investigator Gregory A. Feith, were unable to locate the tail section of the plane, which contains the two black boxes -- a data recorder that reports some components of aircraft performance and a cockpit voice recorder that contains 30 minutes of crew conversations and other sounds.
The Boeing 727, carrying 29 people including the crew, crashed into the mountaintop on New Year's Day. It was significantly off course on a flight from Asuncion, Paraguay, to La Paz. Weather, the extraordinary height and the rugged terrain have made a normal accident investigation impossible. No bodies have been recovered.
In addition to Feith, the expedition included representatives of Eastern, the Boeing Co. and the Air Line Pilots Association. An Alpine climbing team accompanied the specialists.
"We're going to debrief the team leader, then decide what we'll do next," a senior investigator said. "Apparently it will take a major excavation to recover the recorders." A piloting error is suspected by most experts, aviation sources said, and the recorders would be helpful in proving or disproving that.
Meanwhile, off the coast of Ireland yesterday, recovery crews brought up the second piece of the Air India Boeing 747 that crashed there in June, killing all 329 people on board. A terrorist bomb is suspected, but an international investigating team is seeking proof.
It took the 40-ton crane on the Canadian salvage vessel Kreuzturm six hours to haul up a forward section of the plane, but that was after the crew spent 24 hours attaching grapplers and lines. A smaller section of an aft cargo compartment was retrieved earlier. The pieces are scattered across the ocean floor at a depth of about 6,600 feet.
A preliminary check of the recovered pieces is being made on board the ship, but safety specialists say they do not expect to reach definitive conclusions until the pieces are subjected to rigorous metallurgical examination ashore.
Bad weather has hampered operations and officials are concerned that they will run out of money to keep the salvage vessel on station before they have recovered all the pieces they want to see. The U.S. government has contributed about $700,000 to the effort.