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THAI OFFICIAL SAYS ENGINE EXPLODED

Los Angeles Times BANGKOK, Thailand - A senior Thai official said Friday that he believed an engine explosion, rather than a bomb, had caused an Austrian airliner to crash in Thailand earlier this week.

Air Chief Marshal Somboon Rahong also told a news conference that a document was recovered from the pilot's compartment with the word "fire" scrawled in English across the page. He said that a circle had been drawn around the word.Somboon said that Thai investigators believed that the twin-engine Boeing 767-300ER jetliner had dropped from about 31,000 feet to about 9,000 feet before exploding in the air, which Somboon said supported the idea that a fire had burned for a time before setting fire to fuel on the plane.

"I think, and other officials agree, that the right engine caught fire and the heat from that fire caused fuel supplies in the wing to explode," said Somboon, who heads the Airport Authority of Thailand.

The Lauda Air jet carried 223 passengers and crew, all of whom were killed in the explosion and crash of the plane. The plane was on a flight from Bangkok to Vienna and carried a full load of fuel.

Somboon came under intense criticism after Sunday night's crash when it was disclosed that Bangkok's Don Muang airport, which he heads, did not routinely inspect checked luggage with X-ray equipment. Such searches had to be paid for by individual airlines.

Investigators from both Boeing Corp., the manufacturer of the airplane, and Pratt & Whitney Corp., which supplied the engines, joined Thai investigators at the crash site about 100 miles northwest of Bangkok.

A Pratt & Whitney spokeswoman said that there was no evidence yet to support the theory that one of the plane's two engines had exploded. Boeing also denied that evidence pointed to a fire.

Thai and Austrian police officials said after studying the wreckage that the left engine of the plane appeared to be more burned than the right.

"We think it is more and more plausible that an engine caught fire, that it imploded," Peter Blumauer, an intelligence specialist from Austria's interior ministry, told journalists. But he added, "We don't rule out a bomb."