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No Survivors in Swissair Jet Crash

September 3, 1998

PEGGYS COVE, Nova Scotia (AP) _ A flotilla of coast guard and fishing boats searching in the darkness early today found only bodies and debris from a Swissair jetliner that crashed off Nova Scotia, killing all 229 people aboard.

Swissair said there were no survivors from Flight 111 from New York to Geneva, which plunged into the ocean Wednesday night after its pilot reported smoke in the cockpit and attempted an emergency landing at Halifax International Airport.

``About 30 miles south of the airport, the aircraft disappeared from radar screens,″ said airline spokeswoman Beatrice Tschanz in Zurich, Switzerland.

At dawn, rescuers had recovered 18 bodies from the turbulent waters a few miles off Peggys Cove, a small fishing village and tourist retreat.

Philippe Bruggisser, the airline’s chief executive officer, told reporters in Zurich the flight headed out over the Atlantic without incident but within minutes, the Swiss pilot and co-pilot decided to head back after reporting problems on the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 plane.

The passengers were thought to be mostly Swiss, Tschanz said. It was not immediately known how many Americans were on board.

One of the crew members was an American from Swissair partner Delta, Tschanz said. She didn’t identify him.

In Atlanta, Delta spokesman Bill Berry said the ``best information available″ was that 53 Delta passengers were on the flight, which the two airlines shared in a partnership.

President Clinton was informed about the plane’s disappearance before departing Moscow, where he had attended a summit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He was updated again during a flight to Northern Ireland.

``We have no indication that terrorism was involved,″ P.J. Crowley, a White House spokesman, said.

The plane left New York’s Kennedy International Airport at 8:17 p.m. with 215 passengers _ including two infants _ and 14 crew, said Philippe Roy, a Geneva airport spokesman.

Before the plane went down slightly more than an hour later, residents said they heard loud sputtering noises from an aircraft passing overhead and then a thundering crash. Dozens of ambulances were dispatched to the scene.

``The motors were still going, but it was the worst-sounding deep groan that I’ve ever heard,″ said witness Claudia Zinck-Gilroy.

Searchlights from coast guard cutters, fishing boats, helicopters and planes illuminated the area, said witnesses, who reported seeing an oil slick, life preservers and other debris from the downed aircraft spread over a wide area of ocean.

The three-engine plane dumped fuel over nearby St. Margaret’s Bay before crashing, The Canadian Press quoted an airport worker as saying.

Debris from the aircraft was found off Clam Island and other islets between Peggys Cove and Blandford, about 20 miles southwest of Halifax.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike Considine of the Search and Rescue Center in Halifax said rescue crews were searching for the aircraft seven miles off Peggys Cove. Local fishermen were called to the area because they are familiar with the waters.

There were four rescue planes and four helicopters, as well as a Canadian navy ship, said Canadian navy spokeswoman Tracy Simoneau.

``They are reporting that they have located debris, but they are unsure if it’s from the aircraft. They also report an oil slick and a strong smell of oil. They have not found the fuselage,″ Simoneau said.

She said civilian rescuers were at the scene within minutes of the crash.

At the airports in New York and Geneva, grief counselors were on hand for relatives of the crash victims. A special lounge was set up in the Delta Air Lines terminal at Kennedy Airport.

A piece of paper attached to the Geneva airport’s arrivals board, which at first said the flight was ``delayed,″ directed all those concerned with the flight to the information desk.

In Washington, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Matt Furman said the U.S. agency sent a team of 10 people to Canada this morning.

It was the first crash of a Swissair plane since Oct. 7, 1979, when one of its DC-8s overshot the runway in Athens, Greece, while attempting to land and burst into flames. Fourteen people were killed.

Speaking to reporters at the Geneva airport, Georges Schorderet, the chief financial officer of parent company SAirGroup, said the plane was put into service in August 1991 and was overhauled in August and September last year. It had been checked as all are before takeoff, he added.

``This airplane was in perfect working order,″ Schorderet said.

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