A police sergeant searching the murky waters where ValuJet Flight 592 crashed into the Everglades found the crucial cockpit voice recorder Sunday afternoon.
The voice recorder could provide important clues as to why the DC-9 crashed May 11, killing all 110 people aboard."When we stopped for a break, I said, `God, so far I've just prayed for you to keep everyone safe out here and I haven't asked for your help finding anything. Now I'm asking you to help us find this recorder,' " said Metro-Dade Sgt. Felix Jimenez.
"The next time I put my probe into the water, it hit the recorder," Jimenez told The Associated Press.
The recorder was shipped to the headquarters of the National Transportation and Safety Board in Washington for analysis, spokesman Mike Benson said. He said he did not know the condition of the recorder.
"We want to know what happened in the cockpit, the last moment. We are hopeful that the conversation between the pilot and other sound will give us important clues," Benson said.
Jimenez said he was wading shoulder-to-shoulder with a group of eight divers during a routine search when he came upon the "black box."
"If it was in there, I knew we were going to find it because we were finding human remains and bits of debris as small as 2 inches by 2 inches," Jimenez said.
He said the recorder was under water and partially submerged in the Everglades muck southeast of the crater where the plane nosedived. The recorder was about 100 feet from where the flight data recorder was found May 13.
Earlier Sunday, investigators said they found fire and smoke damage in the passenger cabin of the aircraft.
Speculation on the cause of fire has focused on the 119 oxygen canisters loaded into the plane's front cargo hold, which lies underneath the cabin. ValuJet was not authorized to carry the canisters, which contain a volatile mix of chemicals used to provide oxygen to passenger emergency masks.
Investigators also found the aluminum frame of a passenger seat that was partially melted and heavily damaged by fire, said NTSB spokesman Greg Feith. He said it would take temperatures of at least 500 degrees to cause that type of damage.
Also found was a a blackened support structure and smoke-damaged floor beams, both from inside the passenger cabin.
Investigators are using the aircraft debris to reconstruct the forward part of the cargo hold to find the pattern of smoke and fire, which could tell them where the fire began and how it spread.
They also plan to build a cargo hold with oxygen canisters and set it on fire to try to recreate what happened, Feith said.