Thursday, October 15, 1998

Salvage a race against weather

By RICHARD DOOLEY -- The Daily News

Salvage crews are frantically trying to gather as much debris as possible from the crash site of Swissair Flight 111 before weather conditions halt the recovery operation.

The offshore oil barge Sea Sorceress made about 15 successful lifts of debris from 60 metres below the surface yesterday. Canadian Coast Guard spokesman Scott Verret said the operation will continue around the clock as long as the weather holds.

Gale warnings in effect today, rain and thunderstorms overnight, and strong to moderate winds tomorrow might hamper the operation.

Salvage crews working at the crash site about 10 kilometres southwest of Peggy's Cove had to try several methods of hauling debris to the surface before they had any success. A flat bucket called a clam shell is being used to haul debris and human remains to the surface.

Transportation Safety Board investigators call the crash site unique for the investigation team.

"There is no text-book for this sort of thing," said board spokesman Jim Harris. "We are sort of writing it as we go."

Investigators say every lift Sea Sorceress makes adds another page to the text book.

Investigators might be finding the best way to bring nearly 90 per cent of the jet still underwater to the surface, but Harris said that doesn't mean they can estimate when the job will be over.

"We really don't know how long it is going to take," he said. "It looks like we will be there for quite awhile yet."

The Swissair jet crashed Sept. 2, killing all 229 people on board. The Boeing MD-11, en route from New York to Geneva, was trying to make an emergency landing at Halifax International Airport after smoke was detected in the cockpit.

The debris is being sorted aboard a flatbed barge alongside the 122-metre-long Sea Sorceress.

The debris is sorted according to a priority assigned by investigators. Human remains are stored in refrigerated containers.

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