MADRID, Spain-The plane that crashed in Madrid reported an air intake valve overheating before a first attempt at takeoff, but it was not immediately clear whether that was a factor in the accident that killed 153 people, owner Spanair said Thursday.
MADRID, Spain-The plane that crashed in Madrid reported an air intake valve overheating before a first attempt at takeoff, but it was not immediately clear whether that was a factor in the accident that killed 153 people, owner Spanair said Thursday. The airliner said it has not yet determined the cause of the crash Wednesday, the nation’s worst air disaster in nearly 25 years. Only 19 people survived. Spanair spokesman Javier Mendoza said a valve was reported overheating in the front of the plane under the cockpit, and technicians corrected the problem by turning it off. Mendoza said the device is not on a list of equipment that has to be functional for a plane to take off. He told a news conference that turning off such a device in these circumstances is an accepted procedure. Spanair says the plane was eventually cleared by company technicians. The plane crashed on its second attempt to take off for the Canary Islands. Mendoza said the MD-82’s two black box recorders have been recovered, but one is damaged. Alvaro Gammicchia, an Iberia pilot who has flown MD-82 for seven years and represents the pilots union SEPLA, told The Associated Press that even without the valve working, "the plane would not fail to the point of causing a tragedy." The Spanish newspaper El Pais reported that one of the two engines failed and may have caught fire during takeoff. Another paper, La Vanguardia, said witnesses saw the plane’s left engine explode and catch fire before the aircraft went down. Experts said this kind of plane is designed to fly with just one engine in an emergency, raising questions over whether something else may have caused the crash. Spanair confirmed Thursday that an MD-82 was forced to make an emergency landing Saturday on a flight from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands to Madrid because of problems with both of its engines. The plane landed in the nearby island of Gran Canaria, the destination of Wednesday’s flight. A company official speaking on condition of anonymity said he did not know if the same plane was involved in both cases. After the crash, the company now has eight MD-82s. The airline said the pilot of the U.S.-built MD-82 airliner initially reported a problem with a temperature gauge outside the plane. The takeoff was delayed while the problem was repaired. During the second takeoff attempt, the plane crashed at the end of the runway, burning and largely disintegrating. In Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board said it will send a team of investigators to assist in the probe. Spain began three days of mourning for those who died. Flags in Madrid flew at half-staff, and a silent vigil was planned for noon. The king and queen planned to visit a makeshift morgue where relatives were waiting to claim the remains of their loved ones. Development Minister Magdalana Alvarez said Thursday that 14 bodies have been identified so far. She said the process could take several days because many bodies were burned beyond recognition and forensic teams are using DNA techniques. Some mourners spent the whole night at the morgue. The morgue has been set up at Madrid’s main convention center–the same facility used for relatives to identify bodies after the March 11, 2004 Islamic terror attacks that killed 191 people on Madrid commuter trains. Spanair chartered a plane in the Canary Islands to fly in relatives of people killed in the crash. Spanair is Spain’s second largest airline, after Iberia. It is a money-loser though, and owner SAS put it up for sale more than a year ago, although it failed to find a buyer. A cost-saving plan calls for withdrawing older, less fuel-efficient planes including some of its MD-82s, eliminating some routes and laying off a third of its 3,000-member work force. Hours before the crash, the Spanish pilots union SEPLA said Spanair pilots might go on strike to protest uncertainty over their future. The union statement was withdrawn after the crash. AP ______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.