Divers searching the murky crater believed to contain big chunks of a ValuJet plane gave up after finding just two fragments, and the job of digging up whatever is still in the pit is now largely up to a dredger.
"There's no airplane left," Metro-Dade police Detective Paul Toy said after Tuesday's dive at the crash site in the Everglades. The search was continuing outside of the pit.The searchers entered the pit two at a time, wearing bulky black rubber suits designed to protect them from the skin-irritating jet fuel and bacteria from decaying human remains.
They lifted out only two fragmented pieces, each about the size of a 3-by-6-foot table.
ValuJet's blue-and-white paint was recognizable on one piece lifted from the crater, which measures 175 feet long and 60 feet wide and averages about 6 feet deep. At the point of initial impact, the pit is about 18 inches deeper, and there's nothing in the indentation but limestone rubble, Toy said.
The divers gave up their search after only a few hours because their movement stirred up the muck and poor visibility was made even worse. There are no plans to send them back in, said Pat Cariseo, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
"Their job was to do some surveying," he said. "They may have found an area of compacted metal. We don't know how big that is."
A salvage company was preparing to dredge the site Wednesday, a process that could take a week or longer, depending on the weather, Cariseo said.
Meanwhile, recovery crews continued their work outside the crater. Still elusive is the cockpit voice recorder, which could provide important clues to why Flight 592 went down May 11, killing all 110 people aboard.
"They're doing a lot of hand searching and using some tools, including some rakes, similar to garden cultivating rakes," Cariseo said.
It's not unusual that so little remains of the DC-9, Cariseo said. He cited two investigations - including the September 1994 crash of USAir Flight 427 near Pittsburgh - in which planes spiraled to earth at high speed, as the ValuJet plane did, and were pulverized.
Divers still hope to find some of the 119 oxygen canisters that were in the ValuJet's cargo hold. Investigators suspect the canisters caused an explosion or fire before the plane went down.