The cockpit recording from the American Airlines jet that crashed while landing in a thunderstorm contains no mention by the pilots of setting the spoilers that slow a plane, a federal investigator said today.
The finding raises more questions about whether the spoilers were set to activate on landing, as copilot Michael Origel believes they were. The flight data recorders, which were recovered earlier, also indicate that the spoilers did not open when the plane touched down, investigators said.
"What I'm really interested in is the communication between the two officers," said Greg Feith, lead investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. "Was there a miscommunication? Did they not do something because someone did not understand?"
The NTSB's George W. Black Jr. said it is possible that Capt. Richard Buschmann and Origel communicated nonverbally about the spoilers, by pointing or nodding, for example. Spoilers are panels on the wings that pop up to slow the plane on landing.
The plane ran off the end of a wet runway at more than 90 mph, tore open after hitting light stands and caught fire June 1, killing Buschmann and eight passengers. More than 80 of the 145 people aboard were injured. Two passengers were still in critical condition today.
Investigators are examining whether mechanical problems, pilot error, severe weather or a combination of those factors caused the accident.
Origel, who broke a leg in the crash, said last week that he believes the spoilers were set by Buschmann during the jet's approach.
However, Black said today that the recording indicates the pilots went over some items on the pre-landing checklist, but that there was no mention of the spoilers. He would not say if any other elements of the checklist were not heard on the tape.
Feith noted that in a hospital interview, Origel said he had completed the checklist for landing. Investigators want Origel to listen to the cockpit recording with them to refresh his memory about the landing preparations.
An American Airlines official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it is company policy to go through the items on the checklist out loud. Investigators found a checklist displaying data for takeoff, instead of for landing, at the crash site. Feith said the checklist could have been knocked out of place during the crash and the rescue.
Origel also told investigators last week that he never lost sight of the runway as the plane approached in a "bowling alley" gap in the storm clouds. Black said Friday that the cockpit voice recorder indicated otherwise and that Origel would be asked to explain.
Also today, two survivors filed a lawsuit in Chicago against American Airlines and Buschmann's estate. Serena and Johnnie Dexter of Conway, Ark., claim the pilot and airline were negligent in attempting to land in a severe thunderstorm with high winds. They are seeking more than $50,000 in damages. Another survivor lawsuit was filed last week.