August 5, 2005

Black box data intact from Toronto jet crash

By Rachelle Younglai

TORONTO (Reuters) - Flight recorder data from the Air
France plane that crashed in Toronto this week is intact
despite the fire that gutted the aircraft, and investigators
said on Friday the data should help them pinpoint the cause of
the crash.

All 309 people on board survived after the Airbus A340 tore
off the end of the runway at almost 100 mph (160 km/h) during a
severe thunderstorm on Tuesday, plunging into a ravine and
burning to a charred and twisted hulk.

The two black boxes -- flight data and cockpit voice
recorders -- were plucked from the dismembered plane about 24
hours after the crash.

"I was quite anxious a couple of days ago because I knew
there was a lot of heat damage to these two recorders," said
Real Levasseur of Canada's Transportation Safety Board.

"You never know what you are going to get for that type of
heat ... I am very happy to report that we have good solid

Levasseur, who is leading a team of 35 from Canada and 17
from elsewhere, said it appeared the plane touched down further
down the runway than is normal for a jet of its size.

"The information that I have is that the aircraft landed
longer than normal or longer than usual for this type of
aircraft," he said.

"How long exactly, or how far more than usual is what we
are trying to determine right now. If it turns out that it is
significant enough, then we will certainly look at all the
factors that follow."

Witnesses to Tuesday's crash said the plane landed halfway
down the runway at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, and
many speculated that it had been hit by lightning as it neared
the ground. Levasseur said lightning did not appear to have
been a factor.

He said all thrust reversers, used to brake a plane on
landing, were working as the aircraft touched down, and the
cockpit area was less badly damaged than previously thought.

Levasseur said the data from the recorders would provide
more insight on the speed at which the plane's wheels touched
the ground and the speed at which the plane left the runway --
he has said it was traveling at 95 mph when it left the end of
the tarmac.

The Airbus A340-300 is one of the biggest commercial jets
in service. It is 208 feet long, seats nearly 300, has four
engines and weighs a maximum of 200 tons while landing.

The crash has also focused attention on the Toronto
airport, the biggest and busiest in Canada.

The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 64,000
airline pilots at 41 airlines in Canada and the United States,
complained about the ravine and said obstacle-free "safety
areas" were needed beyond the end of runways to give planes an
added chance to slow down.

"It is the latest in a series of airline accidents that
highlight the dangers of inadequate runway safety areas," the
association said.

"The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
recommends that runways should have a defined 'runway safety
area' free of obstacles and extending well past the end of the
actual runway," the statement said.

Two people died in 1978 when an Air Canada plane ended up
in the same ravine, which is some 30 meters (100 feet) deep.