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Saturday, September 12, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Cockpit Recorder From Swissair 111 Found By Divers

The AP

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia - Divers yesterday recovered the cockpit voice recorder from Swissair Flight 111, a find that could help investigators learn why the jet plummeted into the Atlantic nine days ago.

Together with the flight data recorder, which records the flight's mechanical data and was retrieved Sunday, the devices may shed some light onto the cause of the Sept. 2 wreck that killed all 229 people aboard.

The voice box was found 180 feet below the ocean surface, near the spot where the data recorder had been found five days earlier, transportation officials said.

Although investigators already have a transcript of the conversation between the Swissair pilots and air-traffic controllers, the cockpit voice recorder may have picked up additional conversation between the two pilots.

Investigators also will analyze sounds, clicking or background noises captured by cockpit microphones that might indicate what the pilots were doing and what was happening with the aircraft's systems.

Stored in a box of freshwater to help preserve it, the voice box was sent to Ottawa for analysis. Its condition was not immediately known, transportation board officials said.

Investigators said full transcripts of the tape would not be released to protect the privacy of the pilots.

Divers were searching simultaneously for the box and for remains of victims of the Geneva-bound MD-11, when the discovery was made.

Late Thursday, divers recovered remains of passengers from the bottom of the ocean floor. The 22 divers, who can spend just 30 minutes combing the Atlantic floor at any one time, carried the remains 180 feet to the surface in bags.

It was the first time remains had been recovered from the ocean floor.

Out of respect for the families of the victims, authorities wouldn't say how many passengers may have been represented among the recovered remains. Rick Town, commander of the Canadian-navy supply ship Preserver, said even a guess was impossible.

So far, only four victims have been identified out of the remains recovered. The cause of the crash has not been determined.

Flight 111, which originated in New York, lost contact with air-traffic controllers six minutes before it crashed into the Atlantic on Sept. 2.

Divers said they had been focusing their search on the victims, although the voice recorder box was also a priority.

"People come first," said Stan Ferguson, superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, just hours before the voice box was found. "To overlook the recovery of human remains is not right."

The USS Grapple, which helped with the undersea recovery of wreckage of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island in 1996, began preparations to lift the mangled jet from the ocean depths, perhaps early next week.

Military spokesmen said the fuselage and other parts will not be hoisted until the human remains have been retrieved. Information from Newsday was included in this report.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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