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RECORDINGS SHED LITTLE LIGHT ON CRASH

Federal investigators said Friday night that the instruments recording the last moments of USAir Flight 427 shed little light on why the Boeing 737 jetliner smashed into the ground Thursday night, killing 132 people.

Investigators said the wreckage itself offered few clues, because the crash's force tore both plane and passengers into unrecognizable pieces."What the pilot said doesn't help us much," said Carl Vogt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. Vogt said the voice recorder recovered from the cockpit and other instruments showed that the jetliner rolled to the left, "a deviation from the flight path," and crashed 23 seconds later.

The pilot "said something to the effect that we have an emergency. Then there were some exclamations," said Vogt. He would not elaborate.

Another recording, of air traffic controllers at Pittsburgh International Airport, showed that they first were in contact with the plane and then tried in vain to communicate with it.

Vogt, who is heading the federal investigation of the crash, said investigators had not ruled out any possible cause, including a bomb, but had no reason to believe a bomb was involved.

Vogt said much of Friday was spent organizing and surveying the crash site in a remote wooded area northwest of Pittsburgh.

Reporters and others were kept away from the site, which has been declared a biohazard because of the threat of disease from the abundance of human blood.

Vogt said nine witnesses to the crash had been interviewed, and all agreed that nothing fell off the plane in flight, there were no fires before the crash and the plane fell almost straight down. Vogt said one witness described the plane as going down nose-first "like a rocket."

On the parking lot of Goodwill Used Cars at the Green Garden Shopping Center, near the rugged hillside where the jetliner crashed, emergency workers and government officials described the grim scene where a heavy rain was falling on the scattered remains.

"In 28 years as a police officer, I've seen some gruesome scenes, but nothing like this," said Hopewell Police Chief Fred David. "I don't want to get too graphic, but there are things up there that would keep you up nights."

"It was like a tornado took a swath out of those trees," marveled Jimmy Albert, chairman of the Beaver County Commission. "There must have been a hell of an explosion. There was luggage in the trees and clothes and, tragically, body parts. I was in World War II and I was still shocked at this. In war, you expect to see something like this but not at times and places like this."

After receiving a call of condolences from President Clinton, Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey flew over the wooded crash site in a helicopter. "It's just a horrifying scene of destruction," he said.

Federal transportation officials said it's too early to draw many conclusions about the cause of the crash from the condition of the site.

"It's a mystery to us at this point why the accident occurred," said David Hinson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

There was a crater where the jetliner hit a narrow, muddy road and a surrounding area that witnesses described as "burned out." Witnesses said there was no identifiable airplane left and that the remains of the victims seemed contained within a fairly compact area.

Officials said there was no reason to believe that Boeing 737 planes or USAir were especially prone to crash.

The crash of Flight 427 should not be compared with four other fatal accidents involving USAir planes in the past five years, said USAir chairman and CEO Seth Scho-field.

USAir, based in Arlington, Va., has lost money every year since 1989. It lost $393 million in 1993 and $182.8 million for the first half of 1994.

The airline has been trying to cut $1 billion a year from its operating costs, but Schofield said the airline was not "cutting corners" at the expense of safety.

FAA administrator Hinson and U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said USAir has been under federal scrutiny for more than two years, a normal precaution taken whenever an airline faces financial difficulties. The airline's maintenance, flight operations, engineering and other aspects have received closer than usual review.

Federal inspectors have flown more in USAir cockpits and overseen its maintenance crews more than with airlines that are economically healthier, the officials said.

This examination has found "nothing to indicate their operations are unsafe at all," said Hinson.

Records of the plane and its crew provided no clue to the disaster.

The plane had been inspected regularly, the last time on Wednesday during an overnight stay in Hartford, Conn. Prior to that, it had been inspected on July 20 in Tampa and undergone a "heavy maintenance inspection" - done every 11,000 hours - on Feb. 3, 1993, said USAir spokesman Mike Clark.

"It was a clean airplane," he said.

Although Boeing 737 aircraft have been involved in eight previous fatal crashes in the 20 years the model has flown, the crashes were often due to factors unrelated to the design or condition of the plane.

The Philadelphia-based flight crew was identified as Capt. Peter Germano, 45, of Moorestown, N.J., a USAir pilot since February 1981 with over 9,000 cockpit hours; First Officer Charles B. Emmett III, 38, of Nassau Bay, Tex., also with over 9,000 flight hours.

The three flight attendants were Stanley R. Canty, 29, of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; April Lynn Slater, 28, of Irving, Texas, and Sarah Elizabeth Slocum-Hamley, 28, of Chesapeake, Va.

"It was a very experienced flight crew," said Schofield.