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Statement on the Investigation of Alaska Airlines Flight 261
Jim Hall
Investigation of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, Washington, DC

Ladies and Gentlemen, before I begin, let me again say that our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims of flight 261.  I plan to leave for LA this evening to meet with them over the next few days as well as with our on-scene investigators.

I also want to again thank everyone - the US Coast Guard, the state and local authorities, and the countless volunteers - who assisted in the 41-hour search and rescue operation.

I also want to recognize the efforts of the NTSB investigators on scene in California as we begin this investigation.  I especially want to thank Member John Hammerschmidt and the investigator-in-charge, Dick Rodriquez.

And, I want to acknowledge the work of our Office of Aviation Safety and Office of Research and Engineering staff here at headquarters who have been working 24 hours a day in support of the investigation.

What you see here on the table is the cockpit voice recorder from Alaska Airlines flight 261 that was recovered by the U.S. Navy and flown here to NTSB headquarters last night.  In addition, we have the tapes made of the conversation between Alaska Airlines' maintenance base and the flight crew of flight 261.

I want to express my appreciation for the excellent service being rendered once again by the Navy in finding the CVR so quickly.
This morning the National Transportation Safety Board conducted an initial audition of the accident flight's CVR.

The CVR functioned well, the quality of the recording is good, and there are slightly more than 30 minutes of data.

As the recording began, the flight crew was discussing an existing problem with the airplane's stabilizer trim.

The flight crew decided to divert to Los Angeles International Airport.

The airplane's out-of-trim condition became worse as the crew attempted to diagnose or correct the problem.

The crew had difficulty controlling the airplane's tendency to pitch nose-down, the airplane descended, but the crew was able to arrest the descent.

The crew continued troubleshooting and preparing the airplane for landing, then control was suddenly lost.

The crew made references to being inverted that are consistent with the witness statements to that effect.

The Safety Board will be convening a cockpit voice recorder group tomorrow to make a transcript of the recorded information.

The search for the second recorder, the FDR, continues off the California coast at this time.  As has already been reported, the pinger was detached from the recorder.

 The latest flight data recorder standards require that the underwater locator beacon or pinger, be bolted to the crash enclosure of the recorder.

Recorders involved in Alaska Airlines 261, Egypt Air 990, TWA-800, ValuJet- Miami, and several other accidents were built to an earlier standard that did not have the pinger bolted to the crash enclosure. This permitted the pinger to become detached from the recorder due to crash forces.

We will endeavor to keep you informed of our progress as the investigation proceeds both here and in California.

There is an important point I would like to make, related to this investigation.

There have been a number of stories in the media regarding the accident aircraft and mechanical or other problems it may have experienced prior to the accident.

These stories typically cite undisclosed sources.

This is unfortunate.  Information relevant to this accident should be immediately brought to the attention of the NTSB - rather than filtered through the press.

To do otherwise, quite frankly, is irresponsible and does a grave disservice to the victims of flight 261, their families, and to the safety of the traveling public.

I urge anyone with information that can aid our investigation to share it with the investigators responsible for finding out what happened.

As you probably know, the NTSB is also investigating an in-flight occurrence involving another MD-83 that occurred yesterday morning near Phoenix, Arizona.

In that incident, American Airlines flight 1583 was about 20 minutes outside Phoenix after departing for Dallas-Fort Worth, at about 8:20 a.m., when the pilot reported a mechanical problem.  The plane was at 13,000 feet at the time.

The pilot declared an emergency and returned to the Phoenix Airport and landed normally at 9:03 a.m.  The plane carried 59 passengers, and a crew of six.

The airline's maintenance crew reported the problem as a stabilizer trim jam.

The 46-perimeter flight data recorder from the incident flight arrived at the NTSB laboratory early Thursday morning (about 12:45am);
The flight recorder data were successfully downloaded (all 63 hours);  A preliminary evaluation of the data indicates the following:

1. The data recorded for the parameters of airspeed, elevator position and stabilizer position are consistent with the pilot's statement that the stabilizer trim was unresponsive or intermittent during a portion of the flight;
2. Position of the stabilizer trim is recorded on the FDR, but pilot trim inputs are not;
3. The stabilizer position stayed within the normal operating range during the flight; and
4. Further analyses of the FDR data in conjunction with additional pilot interviews are continuing at this time.

American Airlines removed and replaced the stabilizer actuator following the incident. NTSB personnel are quarantining the removed parts pending further investigation.

Our interest in this incident is, of course, heightened because of possible similarities between this incident and the one experienced by the crew of Alaska Airlines flight 261.

Let me stress, however, that we cannot say if there are any common elements in the two events until we have more information.

NTSB Press Contact: Keith Holloway, (202)314-6100