Aviation investigators here have requested flight records indicating that the chartered Arrow Air DC8 jet that crashed here Thursday, killing all 248 American soldiers and eight crew members aboard, had been forced to abort a takeoff last month from Grand Rapids, Mich.
Still without firm clues on the reasons for the disaster here, members of the Canadian-led investigation team said they were interested in knowing more about the incident on Nov. 15 in Michigan when the tail of the aircraft hit the tarmac as the pilot attempted to take off. The airline confirmed that the plane also aborted a takeoff last July.
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration officials in Washington were helping the Canadians get details of the Michigan incident.
A U.S. Army spokesman here said today that the bodies of the 101st Airborne troops and the eight-member crew, all of whom were believed to have been killed instantly in the crash at daybreak Thursday, probably would be returned to the United States beginning Monday afternoon.
Both the U.S. military and the Canadian Aviation Safety Board said they had decided to send the bodies to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Dover, Del., for autopsies instead of waiting for instruments and equipment to be flown to this island in the North Atlantic.
Officials said that the last identifiable remains had been removed from the crash site this morning, shortly before a six-inch snowfall began blanketing the area.
Capt. Robert A. Kramer, spokesman for the Pentagon team here, said the team was still involved in sorting out remains and identifying the bodies. Investigators said some of the soldiers were not wearing their metal identification tags at the time of the crash.
"There are faster ways to bring the remains home that would be in our view improper," he said. "Any other way but the way we are proceeding would not lend itself to the honor and dignity that our soldiers and their families deserve."
He said that soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division are to arrive here Monday from Fort Campbell, Ky., to load the metal coffins onto a plane and escort them to Dover and that it was anticipated that the transfer would take "a period of several days."
A public arrival ceremony is planned at Dover Air Force Base.
Townspeople here plan an ecumenical memorial service Sunday, and Thomas Niles, U.S. ambassador to Canada, was expected to attend.
According to the Grand Rapids Press, the incident last month occurred as the plane was carrying 99 Marine reservists from Kent County International Airport in Grand Rapids to Camp Lejeune, N.C., for an emergency mobilization drill.
The airplane's nose rose but quickly settled back onto the runway after the tail of the plane abruptly hit the tarmac, making a loud noise, Grand Rapids airport officials and marines on that flight told the newspaper.
"There was a big bump, a big jolt," said Capt. Robert Cheslek, the company commander on the flight from Grand Rapids. "Some of the guys were making jokes, thought it was funny, but there were people who wanted to get off. There was no panic. But, to say the least, we were concerned."
The Michigan reservists were seated in the rear of the plane, saving the front seats for another unit boarding in Toledo, Ohio. After the aborted takeoff, the pilot had the Michigan reservists and their gear moved to the front of the plane. He then took off without incident.
In Miami, an Arrow Air spokesman confirmed that the plane had aborted the takeoff in Grand Rapids. He also confirmed that the plane had aborted a takeoff for "some mechanical problems" in Toledo July 28 with members of the Kentucky and Ohio Air National Guard aboard.
Peter Boag, chief investigator for the Canadian Aviation Safety Board, said the probe here has not yielded any evidence to explain why the jet suddenly lost altitude, sheared off treetops about a half mile from the runway and exploded into thousands of pieces. Yesterday Boag said that the first portion of the aircraft to strike the trees and ground was the tail section.
Both black-box flight recorders were badly damaged in the crash. Boag said analysts examining the flight data recorder in Ottawa appear to be getting "some useful information," but that it "remains to be seen" whether the other black box that would normally have recorded the cockpit conversation will yield anything.
Boag dismissed speculation that contamination of the fuel pumped into the aircraft during the stopover here had been the cause of the disaster. He also said records indicated that the total weight of the plane before it took off from Gander was recorded as 330,600 pounds, "within prescribed limits" of 355,000 pounds.