The cockpit recording of Pan Am Flight 103's last minutes ended abruptly after a faint noise, and conversations among the crew gave no clues about what caused the plane to crash, officials said Friday.
"There is nothing in the conversations (of the crew) to indicate anything was wrong," said Paul McKie, British Department of Transport spokesman."There is a faint noise at the end which needs a bit more analysis. There is no indication what that noise is. It would be quite wrong to jump to any conclusions," he said.
The cockpit recording and flight data tapes from the Boeing 747 were being analyzed by the department's Air Accident Investigation Branch.
British and American investigators sifted through crash debris as relatives of some of the 258 victims aboard the jumbo jet gathered in a nearby town.
The noise is heard on the recorder that preserves the last 30 minutes of conversation in the cockpit. The other recorder monitors flight data.
Although U.S. embassies in Europe had received warnings that a Pan Am plane would be bombed, the chief British investigator at Lockerbie, the Scottish village where the plane crashed, said no evidence of a bomb had been found yet.
Mick Charles of the Air Accident Investigation Branch told a news conference: "We have no evidence whatsoever yet of sabotage," but added this did not mean sabotage was ruled out.
He said the spread of debris over many miles was "not unusual," since the plane was six miles high and winds were 115 knots. "In these circumstances a lot of the debris is going to be sent a very long distance."
In Israel Friday, Foreign Minister Moshe Arens linked the crash to Palestinian factions. An Israeli newspaper and terror experts blamed Syrian-backed radical groups opposed to the U.S.-PLO dialogue.
Arens, interviewed in Hebrew on Israel radio, said that "based on our assumptions, and those of our experts, this is an operation of international terror, apparently Arab international terror."
The Israeli newspaper The Nation quoted unidentified Western intelligence sources as saying the Syrian-backed Ahmed Jibril group was responsible. It said investigators believe at least one person aboard could be identified as belonging to Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command group.
Four Americans on board the plane were State Department employees.
A State Department official said two of the Americans were involved in diplomatic security. One worked at the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus, and the other at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. Two others were diplomats assigned to the Beirut embassy, he said.
In Carlisle, 33 miles from Lockerbie, relatives of the 258 people who died on the Boeing 747 began gathering to identify the remains of loved ones. Another 22 people reportedly died on the ground at Lockerbie.
Townspeople stood in a heavy rain Friday solemnly reading the lists of the missing.
About 70 bodies found by search parties still lay outdoors and about 80 were placed in a makeshift morgue in the town hall while investigators from West Germany, Scotland Yard and the United States joined the search.
The sudden catastrophe that made the plane break up over a wide patch of Scottish countryside pointed either to major structural failure or a bomb, and aviation experts agreed the latter was most likely.
Speculation about a terrorist attack was fueled by a threat received Dec. 5 by the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, which U.S. sources believed was linked to the Abu Nidal group of Palestinian radicals.
The State Department said an anonymous caller told the U.S. Embassy a Pan Am flight bound for New York from Frankfurt, West Germany, would be targeted. Flight 103 originated in Frankfurt.
FBI Director William Sessions told reporters in San Francisco he had reports of numerous callers claiming responsibility, including some who claimed affiliation with terrorist groups.
U.S. Ambassador Charles H. Price II and British Cabinet minister Malcolm Rifkind, the secretary of state for Scotland, both said after inspecting the wreckage they were convinced an explosion occurred aboard the plane.
"The aircraft clearly experienced some form of explosion," said Rif-kind.
Many bodies are thought to have been pulverized by fire and the impact of the giant aircraft slamming into the ground. Papers, items of clothing and a mail bag from the plane have been found up to 80 miles away.
Chief Constable John Boyd said police had not accounted for 17 residents of Lockerbie, four of them children. At least five people were presumed killed in cars set ablaze by exploding wreckage.