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Monday, September 14, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pilots' Words Will Be Sealed Forever Under Canadian Law

The Washington Post

HALIFAX, Nova Scotia - Even if Swissair Flight 111's cockpit voice recorder worked perfectly, the world probably will never know exactly what the pilots said as they worked to descend over the dark Atlantic.

Under Canadian law, the voice recorder - which was discovered on the ocean floor and brought to the surface Friday afternoon - will remain secret. Once experts interpret every word and sound, it will be locked permanently in the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's engineering laboratory in Ottawa. No transcript will ever be released.

After crashes in the United States, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board routinely releases a transcript of the recorder, although never the actual voice recording. But under Canadian law, even the transcript is shielded.

Non-voice sounds, such as alarms or engine noises, may be disclosed without restriction, and investigators may disclose whether the pilots' voices reveal that some action did or did not take place.

If absolutely necessary to explain what happened, a partial quote is revealed, but rarely.

The United States is one of the few major countries to release even a sanitized transcript. The Air Line Pilots' Association has had mixed success in Congress, persuading lawmakers only to delay release of the transcript until all other investigative data are released, usually weeks or months after the crash.

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

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