No survivors, no bodies, no hope on Mother's Day.
Authorities on Sunday called off the search for possible survivors of the crash of ValuJet Flight 592, which nose-dived into the Everglades with 104 passengers and five crew members."One hundred and nine mothers that are not doing too good right now," Bill Boland muttered to a fellow ambulance driver at midmorning.
The DC-9 had been in the air only eight minutes on a Saturday afternoon flight to Atlanta when the crew reported smoke in the cockpit. They attempted to turn around but the plane crashed about 15 miles northwest of Miami International Airport. The source of the cockpit smoke was unknown.
The swamp yielded pieces of clothing Sunday, in addition to a family photo album and a floating airplane seat that were found Saturday.
"We are known as rescuers," said Lt. Luis Fernandez of Metro-Dade Fire Rescue. "We rescue victims. When we can't rescue people, it hurts us."
Among the passengers on Flight 592 were San Diego Chargers running back Rodney Culver and his wife, Karen, of Woodstock, Ga.
"These are human beings," ValuJet Airlines Inc. President Lewis Jordan said of the victims at a Sunday morning news conference in Miami. "Every human being in every seat of the airplane is a life and a loved one with stories to tell, with friends, with places to go. It's Mother's Day weekend, we know that."
The discount airline, based in Atlanta, has had at least three accidents since it began operations in 1993. The most serious was a runway fire last year that destroyed a plane and burned a flight attendant.
Workers at the remote crash site spent the morning trying to determine how to recover the remains and wreckage, including the airplane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders.
The wreckage was buried under waist-high water and layers of sawgrass and swamp muck - estimated to be up to 40 feet thick in places. Temperatures were in the mid 80s under steady, bright sunshine.
"If they're out of here before two weeks I'll be surprised," said Metro-Dade Detective Ed Munn.
The Everglades - dubbed the River of Grass - is a desolate expanse of swamp covering much of southern Florida. The area is home to alligators, snakes and other wildlife and is accessible mostly by airboat.
Divers wore protective rubber suits after suffering irritated skin Saturday from aviation fuel and hydraulic fluid. They searched the muck by hand, unable to see more than a few inches in front of them in the water.
Jordan said he took full responsibility for the crash, but added there was no indication anything was wrong before the 27-year-old plane took off. A list of the plane's past problems showed nothing out of the ordinary, he said.
Federal Aviation Administration records showed the crashed jet had returned to airports seven times over the past two years because of various maintenance problems, from an oil leak to loss of cabin pressure. Jordan said he couldn't confirm the records.
The plane had a thorough annual inspection in October and a routine inspection four days before the crash. But the FAA began a special investigation of the airline in February based on the company's rapid growth and several recent incidents.
"If ValuJet had any reason to believe one of our airliners was unsafe, we would voluntarily ground it," Jordan added. "I can assure you that the FAA, if it had any reason to believe it was unsafe, they would ground it."
Jordan defended his airline's use of DC-9s that are often a quarter of a century old and of young pilots who are signed on at lower salaries than more experienced aviators.
Transportation Secretary Federico Pena and FAA Chairman David Hinson visited the crash site Sunday on orders from President Clinton. National Transportation Safety Board investigators also were on hand.
At a news conference near the site, Pena said despite the "very unusual" investigation into ValuJet, he was confident the airline was safe.
"Whenever we have found any issues, ValuJet has been responsive, they have been cooperative, they have in some cases even exceeded the safety standards that we have at the FAA," Pena said. "I have flown ValuJet, ValuJet is a safe airline, as is our entire aviation system."
Flight 592's pilot, Candalyn Kubeck of Bedford, Texas, had nearly 9,000 total hours of flight time, including 2,073 hours with ValuJet and 1,697 as a captain with the airline, officials said.
"Very experienced, very well-trained, very competent," Jordan said of the pilot.