Both engines on a brand-new Boeing 737 apparently failed before the plane crashed along a highway, killing 46 people, officials said Monday. Aviation experts said the chances of double-engine failure were about 10 million to one.
"So far the evidence, although by no means conclusive, is consistent with the right engine having stopped before impact, and there are also signs of fire in the left engine," Transport Minister Paul Channon said in an interview on British Broadcasting Corp. television.Olivier Fagard, a spokesman for the company that makes the CFM-56 engines the jet used, told The Associated Press, "It is extremely improbable that both motors would break down in such a short interval."
"We have very impressive reliability statistics," said Fagard, of the French company SMECMA, which builds the engines in consortium with General Electric Co.
Officials raised the number of confirmed dead to 46 late Monday. Eighty people were injured. Investigators recovered the flight recorders from the wreckage.
The Belfast-bound British Midland Airways jet carrying 126 people broke into three pieces on the edge of Britain's main north-south highway, the M1, in central England on Sunday night.
The twin-engine Boeing 737-400 narrowly missed the town of Kegworth and plowed into an embankment a few hundred yards short of the runway as the pilot struggled to make an emergency landing at East Midland Airport, 100 miles north of London.
Ham radio operator Mervyn Solloway said he heard "not a shouted message, but a bit of a frantic one to say, `We've got problems with the other engine.' That was the last I heard from the aircraft."
British Midland Airways said sabotage was not suspected in the crash, which came less than three weeks after a bomb blew apart Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish village of Lockerbie, killing all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground.
But Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who flew to the scene and visited survivors at Derby Hospital, said: "We rule out nothing, we simply can't. There will be a lot of speculation, but until we have the facts it is unsafe for me to speculate."
Asked about terrorism, Channon replied: "I don't rule out anything at this stage but there's certainly no evidence of it."
William Tench, retired head of Britain's Air Accident Investigation Board, said the odds against both engines failing on a Boeing 737 were 10 million to one.
"I would look for some inadvertent technical mistake such as something incorrect being done to the engines during turnaround, either inadvertently or deliberately," Tench said.
British Midland said the jet was delivered just 12 weeks ago and had flown less than 500 hours. It grounded its other 737-400 for inspection.
Pilot Kevin Hunt, a 25-year veteran, was among the badly injured cut from the wreckage. The last survivor, a woman, was pulled from a tangle of metal and crushed seats more than seven hours after the crash.
The plane's two giant wings, heavily loaded with fuel, remained virtually intact. The severed tail section of Flight BD92 loomed from woodland alongside the highway, surrounded by wreckage from the severed center and nose sections.
Survivor John McCrea said passengers were being served dinner when the plane got into trouble soon after takeoff from London's Heathrow Airport.
"The captain said `prepare for emergency landing' or something to that effect, so we braced our heads and about five seconds ... afterward we were down on the ground with a crash," McCrea said from his bed at the Derby Royal Infirmaryin nearby Nottingham.