A sharply divided commission concluded Thursday that ice on the wings of a military plane caused the crash that killed 248 U.S. soldiers returning home for Christmas nearly three years ago.
However, four of the nine panel members wrote a separate minority opinion saying the crash Dec. 12, 1985, at Gander, Newfoundland, was probably caused by a fire that may have been started by an explosion aboard the plane.The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration participated in the probe, but the ultimate responsibility for the report lies with the nine Canadian board members.
The report by the Canadian Aviation Safety Board - which was signed by five members, including Chairman Kenneth J. Thorneycroft - discounted terrorism and fire as causes of the disaster.
The minority opinion, signed by four members, said witnesses saw fire coming from the Arrow Air charter DC-8 before it crashed shortly after takeoff.
The plane was taking the soldiers home to Fort Campbell, Ky. They were returning from the Middle East, where they were on a peacekeeping mission.
All those aboard the plane, including eight American crew members, were killed in Canada's worst air disaster.
Members of the board often argued publicly during the investigation, leading opposition politicians to call for a judicial review of the crash.
The board's report says the aircraft stalled at low altitude shortly afer takeoff and recovery was not possible.
"The most probable cause of the stall was ice contamination on the leading edge and upper surface of the wing," it said.
"Other possible factors, such as a loss of thrust from the No. 4 engine and inappropriate takeoff reference speeds, may have compounded the effects of the contamination," the report said.
It said the evidence "did not support the occurrence of a preimpact fire or explosion either accidental or as a result of sabotage."
It also found that the crew's December flight schedule was heavy, and they may have been suffering from fatigue.
The minority opinion said "ice contamination was not a factor in this accident." It did not blame terrorism but said that security arrangements at the flight's point of origin in Cairo, Egypt, "were not ideal."
It said, "Fire broke out on board while the aircraft was in flight, possibly due to a detonation in a cargo compartment."
The minority opinion found "members of the cockpit crew performed their duties without apparent fault." It said there was no basis for supposing fatigue might have affected the crew's performance.