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Fuel Focus Of Tunisian Plane Crash!

Thu Aug 18, 2005 8:49 am

Printed this article off line, some interesting points. NF

Fuel focus of Tunisian plane crash probe

PALERMO, Sicily --Investigators are focusing on whether tainted fuel or dwindling fuel supplies played a role in the crash of a Tunisian charter plane at sea that left at least 13 dead, officials said Monday|

Investigators say it is rare for both engines to give out -- in this case within minutes of each other. The head of Italy's civil aviation agency ENAC, Vito Riggio, said authorities were investigating the possibility that the pilot failed to check how much fuel was on board or that the fuel gauge malfunctioned.
"The plane's fuel could have run out," Riggio told The Associated Press.
Other officials suggested impurities from the refueling tanker could have contaminated the fuel supply and clogged the motors, the ANSA news agency reported.
Thirteen people were killed and 23 survived Saturday's crash of the ATR-72 Tuninter charter plane, which was bound for the Tunisian resort of Djerba. The plane slammed into the choppy waters of the Mediterranean about 10 miles north of Sicily as the pilot, realizing he would not make it to the airstrip, brought it down on the water. Survivors said both engines went silent soon before impact.
Rescue workers continued their search Monday for three people missing from the crash.
"I would have wanted to save everyone," the La Stampa daily and other Italian media quoted pilot Chafik Gharbi as telling investigators and doctors from his Palermo hospital bed.
Autopsies on the victims showed that most died on impact and not by drowning, said Paolo Procacciati, head of the forensic medicine department at Palermo Giaccone Polyclinic.
Riggio said the result "was good" in tests for impurities in the type of fuel loaded into the plane in Bari, on Italy's Adriatic coast, and that several other planes using the same fuel Saturday experienced no problems.
Other tests by Tunisian authorities on the fuel loaded onto the aircraft in Tunisia, where it originated, are pending, said Riggio, and the tanker that refueled the aircraft before its departure from Bari was sequestered. The engines from the plane have been recovered, he said.
Meanwhile, two officials from the Toulouse, France-based ATR aircraft manufacturer were heading to Italy to take part in the investigation, said spokesman Frederic Lahache.
The search for two passengers and a mechanic continued for a third day in the seas around the point of the crash, said Palermo Port Authority Lt. Antonino Indelicato.
But Port Cmdr. Vincenzo Pace, saying "we don't want to feed false hopes," told reporters he would assess when to call off the search -- a comment that left one frantic mother pleading with authorities to search the plane underwater in case her missing adult son was trapped there.
In Tunis, Tuninter's director Mohamed Ali Tlili said the missing mechanic verified the plane's functions before it took off from Bari.
When the plane was experiencing problems "the captain called (the mechanic) into the cabin for help," said Riggio. "He (the mechanic) was not strapped in and therefore was thrown from the plane when it ditched into the sea."
Much of the wreckage, including the engines, was brought ashore Saturday night, but Riggio said investigators had not decided whether they would try to haul up the remainder or try to retrieve the plane's "black box" of instrument recordings, which apparently sank in the 4,000-foot-deep sea.
"We have the engines, the fuel tanks, and the pilot and co-pilot are still alive. We have the most important elements," Riggio said.
Airplanes are only as good as the people who fly&fix them.