The Navy found the flight data recorder from EgyptAir Flight 990 today and flew it to Washington, where the National Transportation Safety Board began analyzing the information from it to help determine why the jetliner crashed, killing 217 people.
Operators of the Deep Drone, a remote-controlled underwater vehicle, by chance saw the recorder sitting at 245 feet on the bottom of the Atlantic as they dug through the silt about 60 miles off Nantucket. The recorder's external protected casing was marred, but the safety board laboratory determined the internal parts were not damaged.
"The magnetic tape [of the recorder] was removed from its protective casing, cleaned and dried," said NTSB Chairman Jim Hall. "The tape has data on it, and NTSB engineers are currently working to extract information."
The Deep Drone, owned and operated by Oceaneering Engineering of Upper Marlboro, Md., and under contract to the Navy, had been drawn to the area by a sonar locator "pinger," but investigators said the pinger had become separated from the recorder.
The cockpit voice recorder, the second of two "black boxes," remained hidden, but a second pinger indicated it was in the same area. Now, the salvage specialists are looking for one box but have signals from two pingers.
"We won't know if we are digging on a pinger or if we are digging on the other box," Hall said.
Another remote underwater vehicle, called Magnum, was damaged during the night and had to be pulled aboard for repairs. It was to rejoin the search as soon as possible. Deep Drone is operating from the Navy ship USS Grapple while Magnum is operating from the civilian ship Carolyn Chouest.
The EgyptAir Boeing 767, flying from New York to Cairo early Halloween morning, suddenly began a dive from 33,000 feet. Preliminary radar data, which could change with further refinement, indicate it pulled out of the dive at about 16,000 feet, rose to 24,000 feet and then plunged into the ocean.
The flight data recorder should tell investigators whether the dive was initiated by the crew or by some mechanical or electrical problem. It will not provide a record of conversations that may have occurred in the cockpit between crew members or whether someone else was in the cockpit. That information must come from the voice recorder.
Hall warned that there is no guarantee that the information will be relevant. In some recent crashes, such as Swissair Flight 111, the recorders were damaged or cut off before they gave any definitive information.
The EgyptAir flight data recorder contains 55 measurements, including engine operation, control surface movement, instrument readings, control inputs by the crew and aircraft movements and location.
This is one of the more sophisticated recorders that safety board investigators have seen in recent crashes. Hall has complained repeatedly that investigations are hampered by inadequate recorders. The data recorder on the 1994 crash of USAir Flight 427 at Pittsburgh had only 11 parameters.
The EgyptAir recorder, however, contains not only the basic measurements such as airspeed, altitude and engine thrust but also most control positions and warning alarms. It measures various airplane systems, including hydraulic pressure.
The recorder potentially could tell investigators almost everything they need to know about the crash.
Many of the families who had gathered here for information and memorials have left. Those remaining were told of the new development.
CAPTION: The case containing the 767's flight data recorder is carried from helicopter at Andrews Air Force Base on way to National Transportation Safety Board's laboratory.
CAPTION: Side-scan radar is removed from sea off Nantucket during search last week for two black boxes.
CAPTION: Remote-controlled underwater vehicle Deep Drone spotted the EgyptAir flight data recorder on the bottom in 245 feet of water and was able to pluck it from the silt.