By Verna Gates
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Aug 16 (Reuters) - U.S. government investigators looking into the crash of a UPS cargo plane said on Friday the pilots received a low altitude warning seven seconds before the sound of impact, according to data recovered from the cockpit voice recorder.
Investigators retrieved data from the flight recorders on Friday that could shed light on Wednesday’s fiery crash in Alabama that killed the jet’s pilot and co-pilot.
“We’ll know everything that was said in the cockpit,” said National Transportation Safety Board investigator Robert Sumwalt. “I personally breathed a huge sigh of relief once I learned we had good data.”
His comments confirmed that the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from the downed United Parcel Service Inc plane contained information that could help pinpoint the cause of the crash.
Sumwalt said the pilots received only one of two warnings about their altitude. A second warning, known as the Minimum Safe Altitude Warning, which is part of airports’ radar systems’ software, detects whether a plane is descending at a rate that could be hazardous.
“It did not alert,” he said.
The cockpit voice and flight recorders arrived at the NTSB’s headquarters in Washington late on Thursday, hours after they were pulled from a heap of melted plastic and debris at the crash site.
Preliminary results from the agency’s investigation, which is still in its early stages, have shown no evidence of engine fire, and the pilots did not issue a distress call.
The Airbus A300 jet was approaching the runway at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth airport before dawn when it clipped the trees in an adjacent residential area and crashed well short of the runway.
The NTSB has sent investigators to Louisville, Kentucky, to study the A300’s maintenance records, Sumwalt said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation was helping with documentation and the collection of evidence, Sumwalt said in a videotaped interview from the crash site, posted on the website of the Birmingham News.
“I think the wreckage should probably be moved out of here in about seven days,” Sumwalt said. “We want to make sure we’ve got everything documented before we release it to the airline.”
UPS identified the crew members who died as 58-year-old Cerea Beal Jr., of Matthews, North Carolina, and Shanda Fanning, 37, of Lynchburg, Tennessee.
Beal, the captain, had been with UPS since 1990, and before that he served more than six years in the U.S. Marine Corps as a helicopter operator.