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Saudi Plane Crash Caused by Flat Fire, Company Says, But Probe Continues

August 30, 1991 GMT

MONTREAL (AP) _ A flat tire caused the crash of a Nigerian Airlines jet in Saudi Arabia in July, according to the president of the Canadian company that owned the aircraft.

But what caused the tire to deflate has not been determined, and a spokesman for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, which is investigating the crash, cautioned Thursday that no conclusions have been drawn.

The July 11 crash at the Jiddah, Saudi Arabia international airport killed all 261 people on board. It was the world’s 10th-worst airline disaster.

The DC-8 was carrying 247 Nigerian pilgrims to Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia, plus 14 crew members, 12 of them Canadian.

In a progress report on the investigation released earlier this month, the board said a tire of the DC-8 went flat before it reached the takeoff runway.

Another tire also went flat and caught fire. Flames spread throughout the aircraft, which crashed about a half-mile short of the runway.

The complete inquiry into the disaster will take one to three years. Safety Board spokesman Harris said the board has not yet analyzed the tires, wheels and brakes from the aircraft.

″It is too early to make any conclusions about the case and contributing factors,″ Harris said in a telephone interview Thursday.

A statement by Saudi Arabia’s Civil Aviation Authority in July said a faulty landing gear in addition to defective tires played a role in the crash. But Robert Obadia, president of Montreal-based Nationair, told news conference Thursday that a government inquiry into the disaster ″is absolutely not on a trail that would lead to Nationair responsibility.″

″We are 100 percent sure it started with an ordinary flat tire, and that the tire caused the fire. What has to be established is why it deflated,″ he said.

He said the wheels and brakes have ″been cleared″ by investigators as a cause of the crash.

Obadia said that in his meetings with board officials he found that the investigation has ruled out ″any deficiency of the plane, the team (of pilots), Nationair or Technair,″ the company’s maintenance subsidiary. ″It was purely a fortuitous accident.″

Obadia said the company has not yet received any notices of lawsuits.