Divers have retrieved Swissair Flight 111's flight data recorder despite an emergency that endangered their lives, but experts say the "black box" contains no information from the final six minutes of the doomed flight.
Crash investigators had high hopes after the data recorder was recovered from the ocean floor Sunday. But laboratory examinations on Monday revealed that there was no data from the last minutes right before the MD-11 jumbo jet plunged into the ocean off Nova Scotia late Wednesday, killing all 229 people aboard.Vic Gerden, the chief investigator, said the data recorder stopped once the plane dropped below 10,000 feet. A strong possibility, he said, was that the plane lost electrical power at that time.
However, Gerden said the data recorder was in good condition and should provide useful evidence about 100 types of information ranging from altitude and airspeed to whether the plane's smoke warning lights were on.
The data recorder, found at a depth of 190 feet, nearly didn't make it to the surface. Navy Capt. Phil Webster said one of the two divers developed a leak in his suit, and the pair had to make an ascent - clutching the black box - much more rapidly than is considered safe.
One of the divers became ill from the rapid change in pressure. Both were put in a decompression chamber, then taken to a hospital. Both were recovering at home, Webster said.
At the crash site, five miles off shore, divers equipped with hand-held sonar searched Monday for the plane's other black box - the cockpit voice recorder. The signals from the device have been detected, but bad weather forced suspension of the diving until Wednesday.
If retrieved, the voice recorder would reveal other noises in the cockpit besides the pilots' conversation with controllers, portions of which were released Saturday. That conversation was cut off 10 minutes after the pilots reported smoke in the cockpit and minutes before the crash.
Divers also were trying to confirm if three large pieces of wreckage found near the flight data recorder are sections of the plane's fuselage.
Several hundred family members have come to the area to visit Peggy's Cove, attend memorial services and assist medical teams in trying to identify badly fragmented human remains retrieved by searchers.
About 1,400 military personnel are involved in the search, and some 200 stress counselors have been assigned to support them during their often grisly work.