The military charter flight that crashed here Thursday had accelerated normally during takeoff before it suddenly lost speed and angled to the right of the flight path, according to raw data retrieved from the airplane's "black box" flight data recorder.
Peter Boag, chief investigator for the Canadian Aviation Safety Board, said the aircraft reached a peak speed of 190 mph, then declined and veered about 20 degrees off course until the 1-minute, 40-second recording stopped.
The raw data obtained late yesterday from analysis in Ottawa of the battered black box is helpful, Boag said. But, he added, it does not provide any obvious clues to the reasons why the plane plummeted, tail first, onto a forested hill about a half mile south of the runway, instantly killing all 248 101st Airborne soldiers and the eight-member crew aboard.
As the probe continued slowly, an escort team of two officers and 18 enlisted men from the 101st Airborne home base at Ft. Campbell, Ky., arrived here to begin preparations for homecoming ceremonies befitting soldiers slain in battle.
With the temperature at 19 degrees and brisk westerly winds gusting to 45 mph, the honor guard carried 20 American flag-draped steel coffins from the makeshift morgue, located in a hangar, and loaded them onto two camouflaged C141 transport planes.
Boag said the investigation still has not been able to determine the altitude the plane had reached before falling, or its angle of incline. "A complete and thorough investigation will require considerably more investigation and time," he said.
Boag said that it may take more than a year for the safety board to decide what caused the crash. "A big problem is a large portion of the aircraft was consumed by fire and it's just not there," he said.
Technicians still have not been able to get any useful information from the cockpit voice recorder, he said, expressing pessimism that any ever would be obtained. The pilot did not radio the control tower that the plane was in any distress.
Careful not to speculate, Boag did say that the evidence appeared to rule out the possibility of a bomb. Previously he also had discounted speculation that the fuel may have been contaminated or that the load on the plane or possible ice on the wings caused it to be overweight.
He repeated today, "We're not focusing on any particular cause at this particular time."
The plane's four engines, scooped up from the site with earth movers, lay in a hangar awaiting shipment to Ottawa. All were charred and mangled but appeared to be largely intact. Boag said his investigators had not been able to determine yet whether there had been any mechanical problems.
During today's half-hour-long departure ceremony, the bitter cold forced a 20-man Canadian Armed Forces honor guard to march off the runway to the warmth of a nearby hut several times.
The two C141s took off by 1:30 p.m. for their flight to Dover, Del., where autopsies were to be conducted at the military pathology institute.
Although many of the soldiers wore metal identification tags, Maj. Gen. John S. Crosby, the head of the Pentagon team here, said formal identification would be made at Dover and he did not know with certainty whether some of the coffins shipped out today may have included remains of the plane's crew.
The two planes were expected to make four more round trips to Gander to pick up the rest of the coffins on Tuesday and Wednesday.