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Fallen Part in Fatal Commuter Plane Crash Found, Supports Theory

September 16, 1991 GMT

EAGLE LAKE, Texas (AP) _ The discovery of an airplane part crucial to the investigation of a commuter plane crash that killed 14 people supports the theory that 43 missing screws caused the accident, an investigator said.

Crews found the part, a 9-foot de-icing attachment, on Sunday in a farm field about three-quarters of a mile northwest of the site where Continental Express Flight 2574 crashed Wednesday.

The sudden loss of the de-icer would stall the tail and cause the plane to nose dive, officials said.

″It was in basically the condition we had expected,″ said Brent Bahler, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. ″That should help us confirm our previous theory that the screws had not been replaced.″

Investigators have speculated the de-icing boot fell off during the flight from Laredo to Houston because 43 screws were missing from the leading edge of the plane’s stabilizer, a section of the tail that keeps the airplane horizontal in flight.

NTSB Chairman James Kolstad said Saturday that maintenance records showed the left and right de-icer boots were to be replaced Tuesday.

Two workers replaced the right boot, while an inspector removed 43 screws holding the upper left boot, Kolstad said. Records do not show the screws being replaced.

Continental has suspended the three workers, temporarily reassigning them to administrative duties at another company facility pending the outcome of the investigation, company spokesman Dave Messing said today.

Kolstad said the bottom 43 screws were able to keep the left boot in place during an earlier flight from Houston to Laredo on Wednesday. But the part was dislodged on its return.

Federal investigators said Sunday they had completed their on-site probe.

Also Sunday, federal officials took blood and urine samples, to be tested for drugs and alcohol, from a dozen workers and supervisors on two Continental Express maintenance crews working the day before the crash.

Officials said it would be several days before the drug tests were completed. Investigation results are not expected for at least nine months.

Kolstad said debris from the Brazilian-made Embraer-120 turboprop would be shipped to Hooks Field near Houston Intercontinental Airport, where it would be reconstructed for further study.

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The boot, an inflatable fiberglass device that is covered with rubber, is used in flight to break up ice from the tail section, providing streamlined aerodynamics. The boot covers the leading edge of the stabilizer, a slanted area that allows air to flow over the stabilizer and back to moveable elevators, slats that cause the airplane’s nose to angle up or down.

Continental officials have suspended the workers until the investigation is complete, spokesman Dave Messing said Saturday.