The answer to one of the most baffling aviation mysteries of the 20th century may finally be revealed now that intrepid mountaineers have scaled a remote and desolate peak in the Andes mountains and recovered what appears to be the flight recorders of a long-lost airliner.
The flight recorder is thought to belong to ill-fated Eastern Airlines flight 980, which went down in unexplained circumstances in 1985 in Bolivia. The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has received the remains of the black box, US reports say.
Flight 980 crashed on New Year’s Day 1985, on its approach to an airport commonly known as El Alto. El Alto, outside La Paz, Bolivia, is the highest international airport in the world with a runway at over 13,000 feet high (almost 4 kilometres).
Eastern Air Lines was a major American airline from 1926 to 1991, based at Miami International Airport.
None of the 29 people aboard the B727 survived and sudden diversion of the plane as it was coming into land has baffled investigators.
Flight 980 was cleared to descend from 25,000 feet to 18,000 feet. The aircraft then abruptly steered significantly off the airway for unknown reasons. The crash site was so inaccessible that all attempts to recover the flight recorders failed – until now.
Various attempts to retrieve the recorders have been made over the years, as an underlying glacier moved debris from the crash steadily along.
On 4 June 2016, after one of the warmest years on record in the area, human remains, the cockpit voice recorder and many smashed parts of the plane’s flight data recorder were recovered by a team of three.
Dan Futrell and Isaac Stoner of Operation Thonapa recovered six large metal segments and several damaged pieces of magnetic tape.
The NTSB now has the flight recorder.
Passengers on the doomed aircraft were from Paraguay, Ecuador and the United States. Among the passengers was the wife of the US Ambassador to Paraguay, Marian Davis, and two Eastern pilots flying as passengers.
Analysis of the tapes is expected to take “no more than a few weeks”, according to ABC News in the US. The NTSB will then report its findings to Bolivian authorities and the truth should finally emerge.
Written by Peter Needham