Families mourn crash victims

BY P.J. HELLER | Port Hueneme, CA | February 2, 2000

A painstaking search by ships, Helicopters, and aircraft where Alaska Airlines Flight 261 nose-dived into the Pacific Ocean

turned up little Tuesday, crushing hopes that any survivors would be found from among the 88 people on board.

Nevertheless, U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thomas Collins said he would wait until Wednesday morning before announcing

whether the "search and rescue" mission would be changed to a "search and recovery" effort.

"This is still a search for human life," Thomas told a news conference nearly 24 hours after the MD-83 jetliner went down in

the 58-degree water. "I am not yet ready to make the decision to stop the search."

The search continued throughout the night Tuesday.

Officials said only four bodies -- a man, two women, and an infant -- had been recovered from the crash site, about 10 miles

off the coast between Anacapa Island and the California mainland near Oxnard. Debris from the plane was being picked up

by Coast Guard, Navy, and commercial fishing craft.

The Alaska Airlines flight originated in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and was headed to Seattle with a stop in San Francisco. About

20 miles northwest of Los Angeles, the pilot reported a mechanical problem with the stabilizer trim and was given permission

to make an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport. The plane disappeared minutes later from the radar

screen, plunging 17,000 feet to the ocean.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) members arrived here early Tuesday to investigate the crash. John

Hammerschmidt of the NTSB reported on the last communications the craft had with air traffic controllers. He said the pilots

of four other aircraft had seen the jetliner go down and that those pilots would be interviewed.

Investigators also reported picking up signals believed to be from the flight data recorder. Video equipment and

side-scanning sonar equipment was being brought in to aid in the search in waters that NTSB officials said were anywhere

from 300 to 700 feet deep.

Officials said there were no plans at present to bring family members of the victims to the crash site. One news report said 11

relatives and friends of the crash victims had gathered on the beach at Port Hueneme at sunset on Tuesday.

Along the coastline, a few makeshift memorials were set up on the beach and area residents scanned the ocean from shore

with binoculars.

At least two crosses, one a tall wooden cross strewn with flowers, were set up in two separate locations.

"Pray for the loved ones," read one sign where a 3-year-old girl was making another makeshift memorial under the watchful

eye of her parents.

Patricia Cox of nearby Ventura, Calif., brought flowers to place next to a small cross that was erected on the beach at Port

Hueneme. Several candles were placed in the sand next to the cross.

"It's my way of showing that I care," Cox said.

The Alaska Airlines disaster was the second air crash in as many days. A Kenya Airways Airbus 310 with 179 people aboard

crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday night minutes after taking off from Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

The Kenya Airways plane was heading to Nairobi via Lagos. The cause of the crash was not determined.

Ten people were rescued from the water. Officials said 86 bodies had been recovered. The remaining 83 passengers were

feared dead.

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