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BACKHOE TO SCOOP UP VALUJET WRECKAGE

Investigators brought in a 49-ton backhoe Saturday to scoop up the wreckage of ValuJet Flight 592 embedded in limestone under the murky water and dense peat of the Everglades.

The investigators, however, refused to comment until Sunday about their search for a cause to the May 11 crash that killed all 110 people aboard.The National Transportation Safety Board investigators also would not comment on a television station's report that investigators believe fire from oxygen canisters burned through electronic steering cables, causing the pilot to lose control of the DC-9.

Resolve Towing & Salvage Inc., a company that specializes in marine salvage complicated by hazardous waste, began moving in equipment Saturday that will move the heavyweight backhoe to the edge of a crater formed by the crash. The company expected to begin dredging the crater in two to four days.

The backhoe will move in a path outlined by Navy radar tests that detected significant chunks of wreckage, said Resolve Towing executive vice president Mauricio Garrido.

"They have the pattern of the crash pretty well figured out and marked, so they'll be guiding us as it develops," he said.

On Saturday, NTSB chairman Jim Hall flew over the site. He also thanked federal and state workers for their efforts during "probably the most difficult and taxing site the board has ever excavated."

NTSB spokesman Mike Benson refused to address Miami television station WTVJ's report Friday that investigators believe fire from 119 oxygen-generating canisters aboard the plane burned through electronic steering cables, causing the pilot to lose control.

The station, quoting sources close to the investigation, said tapes from the co-pilot's conversation with the air traffic control tower indicated the pilot was flying blind and could not see where they were going.

Resolve Towing planned to begin its salvage operation with high-pressure water jets to pierce through dense mud where metal has been detected to help determine the size of wreckage chunks.

Workers will then start moving the backhoe 400 yards from a levee to the crater, using a set of four floating platforms as movable stepping stones. Divers searched the muck by hand Saturday to assure the platforms would not rest on on chunks of the plane.

Company divers will borrow self-cooling Navy diving suits and wear hard-hat helmets for dives in 90-degree water. They will guide water lines and attach nylon straps to debris for lifting.