The submersible Deep Drone, poking around in the silt near where EgyptAir Flight 990 went down with 217 people, tonight found the jet's cockpit voice recorder and gave investigators hope that they will solve one of the most mysterious airliner crashes of the last few decades.
Rear Adm. William Sutton said the Deep Drone located the recorder--often called a black box even though it is orange--at 10:12 p.m. He said it would remain on the USS Grapple until after daylight, when it would be flown to National Transportation Safety Board laboratories in Washington to be read out.
Sutton said the box was reported to be dented on one side, its nameplate was missing and its locator "pinger" had been separated from the box.
"The weather is supposed to close in on us tomorrow, so it is fortunate that we found it tonight," Sutton said.
NTSB Chairman Jim Hall, who appeared relieved as he stood with a small group of Navy officers and reporters, said this was one of the most difficult investigations the board has had since he arrived six years ago.
Federal investigators, still puzzled as to why Flight 990 went into a steep dive, said today that they will attempt to re-create the crash sequence on a Boeing simulator.
The increasing amount of information being gleaned from the plane's flight data recorder has only added to the mystery of why a Boeing 767 in smooth flight at 33,000 feet would suddenly go into a dive so abrupt that it left the passengers weightless for 20 seconds.
Greg Phillips, the NTSB's investigator-in-charge for the crash, said that only about two seconds of water-damaged data remain to be retrieved up to the point when the flight data recorder cut off. But so far, the recorder only tells what happened, not why.
Phillips said investigators will travel to Seattle next week to feed the data into a 767 simulator, hoping that it will provide some new understanding of the wild ride.
That wild ride included movement of the left and right elevators in opposite directions, something that rarely happens. These flat panels at the end of the plane's horizontal stabilizer, which make the plane go up or down, can be made to move in opposite directions if the pilots push hard in opposite directions on the control column. This does not prove there was a fight in the cockpit, but that is one possible explanation.
Someone also pulled the engine cutoff switches as the plane began to climb out of the dive. That could mean two things: an attempt to shut the engine down or an attempt to restart a stopped engine. Pulling the engine cutoff is the first step in an engine restart.
Only information from the cockpit voice recorder can solve such mysteries for certain.
A MYSTERIOUS DESCENT
Information pieced together from the flight data recorder and previous radar tower readings shows a puzzling chain of events that led to the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990.
* Left/right sides placed in split positions.
* Thrust reversers were not deployed.
* Shut down during descent.
* Pilots shut down autopilot, commanded plane to dive.
* Two steering columns could have given separate commands to elevators.
* Reached mach 0.94.
(Relation of plane to horizon)
* Reached 40 degrees.
Autopilot shut off.
Nose down elevator command.
Engine thrust reduced.
Plane reaches mach 0.86.
Warning light goes off.
Right/left elevators in split positions.
Engines shut down.
Last radar, at 10,000 feet, detects fragments.
Altitude, in thousands of feet
SOURCE: National Transportation Safety Board