updated 2-9-2000




ON JANUARY 31, 2000


Alaska Airlines Hotline: 1(800)553-5117

NOTE:  Another plane with the same tail stabilizer problem returned to Phoenix today after taking off and experiencing problems.

Flight 261: Scary Thinking Here

January Dreams of Plane Events


Capt. Ted Thompson, 53, Redlands, Calif.

Craig Pulanco, 30,
flight attendant, Seattle


Avine Deo, Seattle

Monte Donaldson, 31, Seattle

Dean Forshee, Concord, Calif.

Jerri Fosmire

Allen Friedman, Round Lake Beach, Ill.

Russell Ing

Rachel Janosik, Enumclaw, Wash.

Karl Karlsson, San Bruno, Calif.

Carol Karlsson, Petaluma, Calif.

Joseph Knight, 54, Monroe, Wash.

Linda Knight, 51, Monroe, Wash.

William Knudson, 53, Sacramento, Calif.

Charles Russell, Hayward, Calif.

Barbara Ryan

Bradford Ryan

James Ryan, Redmond, Wash.

Terry Ryan

Morrie Thompson, 61, Fairbanks, Alaska

Thelma Thompson, Fairbanks, Alaska

Sheryl Thompson

Robert Thorgrimson, Poulsbo, Wash.

Lorna Thorgrimson, Poulsbo, Wash.

Bob Williams

Patty Williams

First Officer William Tansky, 57, Alameda, Calif.

Kristin Mills, 26, flight attendant, based in Seattle.

Gabriella Chavez, San Diego

Jacqueyn Choate, Santa Cruz, Calif.

Toni Choate, Santa Cruz, Calif.

Sheri Christiansen, San Francisco

Carol Clemetson, Seattle

Spencer Clemetson, Seattle

David Clemetson, Seattle

Blake Clemetson, Seattle

Miles Clemetson, Seattle

Coriander Clemetson, Seattle

John Cuthbertson

Juan Marquez, San Francisco

Ileana Ost, San Bruno, Calif.

Emily Ost, infant, San Bruno, Calif.

Bob Ost, San Bruno, Calif.

Cynthia Oti, Oakland, Calif.

Sarah Pearson, Seattle

Grace Pearson, Seattle

Rodney Pearson, Seattle

Rachel Pearson, 6, Seattle

Deborah Penna

Jean Permison, Scotts Valley, Cali.

Stanford Poll, 59, Mercer Island, Wash.

Anjesh Prasad, Seattle

Avinish Prasad, Seattle

Paul ''Clarke'' Pulanco, 40, Seattle

Nina Voronoff

Allison Shanks, 33, flight attendant, based in Seattle.

Larry Baldridge Jr., Novato, Calif.

Renato Bermudez, Granada Hills, Calif.

Michael Bernard

Malcolm Branson, Seward, Alaska

William Bryant

Ryan Busche

Abigail Busche

Jean Gandesbery, San Francisco

Robert Gandesbery, San Francisco

Meghann Hall, Enumclaw, Wash.

Aloysius Han, Oakland, Calif.

Barbara Hatleberg, Eugene, Ore.

Glenn Hatleberg, Eugene, Ore.

Robert Hovey, 50, lived on sailboat in the east San Francisco Bay.

Rodrigo Laigo

Naomi Laigo

Ronald Lake, Corte Madera, Calif.

Joyce Lake, Corte Madera, Calif.

Bradley Long, 39, Sacramento, Calif.

James Luque, 41, San Francisco

Ellen Salyer, Sebastopol, Calif.

Stacy Schuyler, Milton, Wash.

Donald Shaw, Shelton, Wash.

Charlene Sipe, Seattle

Joan Smith, Belmont, Calif.

Ryan Sparks, Enumclaw, Wash.

Harry Stasinos, Seattle

Thomas Stockley, 63, Seattle

Margaret Stockley, 62, Seattle

Janice Stokes, Ketchikan, Alaska

Colleen Whorley, 34, Seattle

Steve Wilkie, San Francisco

Profiles of Flight 261 Crew, Passengers


.c The Associated Press

(Feb. 2, 00) - Those aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 261 included a family of six, a firefighter who loved risk, a pilot who also was a safety instructor for the airline, a writing instructor on vacation and an off-duty flight attendant who had flown family and friends to Mexico for an impromptu birthday party. A thumbnail look at their lives:

Robert Ost considered risk part of the job and part of life.

A 15-year veteran of the South San Francisco Fire Department, he was also an avid paraglider and mountain climber.

''To me, what he always did was risk, but he was always safe in doing it,'' said John Lucia, an assistant fire chief who gathered with co-workers at the Ost home Tuesday.

Ost, his wife Ileana - who worked for the airline as a customer service representative - and their daughter Emily all were on Flight 261, said South San Francisco Department Chief Russ Lee.

Another couple, Jean Permison, Ileana Ost's mother, and Charles Russell, both of Scotts Valley, also were aboard the flight.

Lee said Robert Ost was ''the kind of person that people like to work around. Everybody is just really shocked. It's a tremendous loss to our department.''

Flags at fire departments throughout San Mateo County flew at half-staff Tuesday.

Fellow firefighters at the station were in shock, Lucia said.

''It's pretty somber. I don't think it's sunk in yet.''


Family and friends of Alaska Airlines Capt. Ted Thompson, the pilot of Flight 261, gathered at his Redlands, Calif., home Tuesday to grieve and console. A sign on the door read, ''The family is in seclusion. Please respect our privacy and our grief.''

Thompson's son, Fred, his voice breaking, thanked well-wishers, offered his family's sympathy and asked for privacy.

Ted Thompson, 53, flew C-141 cargo planes for eight years for the Air Force before becoming a commercial jet pilot for Alaska Airlines in 1982. He had 10,000 flying hours with Alaska Airlines, and was a flight safety instructor for the company.


After a student died two months ago, University of San Francisco teacher Jean Gandesbery turned sadly to a colleague and said, ''We never really do know how much time we have.''

''It was really prophetic and really sad,'' said Lisa Morana, interim director of USF's Sacramento campus, where Mrs. Gandesbery taught writing as an adjunct instructor.

Mrs. Gandesbery and her husband, Robert Gandesbery, were returning from a vacation aboard Flight 261. Mrs. Gandesbery just had her childhood memoirs published in a novel ''Seven Mile Lake.'' Her husband was retired.

''She really had a significant impact on all of her students. They did a lot of personal writing and they got to know each other very well,'' Morana said.

''They're really nice people. They're just such pleasant people,'' said Jerome Vigil, who was house-sitting for the couple and watching over their golden retrievers, Emma and Casey.


Linda and Joe Knight, co-pastors of the Rock Church Northwest in Monroe, Wash., had been in Puerto Vallarta doing missionary work after 15 years of outreach on the streets of Seattle.

The church's weekly prayer meeting turned into a time of mourning. Members gathered to pray and told reporters they were told not to talk.

The Knights, in a July 1998 story in The Herald of Everett, Wash., said they gathered food, raised $3,700 to build showers and toilets and worked to buy a school building for teaching English and the Bible to children living in poverty. Much of the support came from corporations.

''As a team, we have been able to get companies like Alaska Airlines to donate food for the children,'' Mrs. Knight told the paper.

''This isn't one of those things where we do a missionary trip and then forget about it,'' she said. ''This is going to be our lifelong work.''


Tom Stockley, 63, went to work for The Seattle Times in 1967 and six years later became the newspaper's wine columnist.

His wife, Peggy, 62, was an animal lover and community activist who had worked for the Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Seattle Youth Symphony and other organizations. Most recently, she edited the Floating Homes Association newsletter. They both graduated from the University of Washington School of Communications.

The Stockleys were well known in their close-knit houseboat community.

''They were just the gentlest souls and always willing to help neighbors,'' said neighbor Jan Knutson.

''It's a very good reminder to us that when we cover tragedies, we're writing about people who are loved,'' said Times managing editor Alex MacLeod.

In 1998, Stockley was recognized at an international conference in Seattle for expanding public knowledge about wine and wine production.

''His impact was tremendous,'' said Simon Siegl, president of the American Vintners Association. ''He was there at the beginning before anybody was aware of the Washington wine industry and a strong advocate from the start.''


Morris Thompson, 61, was one of Alaska's most prominent Native and business leaders.

''A really big Alaskan tree fell today,'' said Byron Mallott, who recently stepped down as executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.

Thompson, his wife, Thelma, and daughter Sheryl had been in Mexico for a vacation.

Thompson retired last month as president and chief executive officer of Doyon Ltd., a Native corporation formed in 1971 as part of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The corporation has 12.5 million acres of land, making it the largest private landowner in the United States.

When Thompson took over Doyon in 1985, it had an operating loss of $28 million. When he retired, it was generating $70.9 million in annual revenues, had 900 employees and 14,000 stockholders.

Thompson was a special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior during the Nixon years. He was only 34 when he was appointed Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He also was a cabinet-level officer in Alaska Gov. Walter J. Hickel's first administration.

''He is a great Native leader, very personable, down to earth,'' said Sharon McConnell, a co-host of ''Dialogue with Doyon'' that aired on Alaska Public Radio until Thompson retired. ''I think a lot of us are in shock about this.''


Cynthia Oti was an investment broker who knew how to save and how to spend, how to work and how to play.

''She enjoyed life,'' said Greg Raab, public relations and marketing manager for San Francisco radio station KSFO, where Oti was host of a nightly radio show on investing.

''She told people to save and have a plan for the future, but not to deny oneself. She said it on the air and she lived it.''

Colleagues said Oti's career as a broadcaster was beginning to take off. For four years, she did a three-hour Sunday show, but last spring, KSFO asked her to take on a prime-time, Monday-through-Friday slot. She indulged herself by buying a Jaguar.

She had treated herself to a weekend getaway in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where Flight 261 originated. She loved the music of Eric Clapton and collected expensive champagne.

Oti was supposed to go on the air two hours after the flight was scheduled to land in San Francisco.

''It's terrible news for us,'' talk show host Gene Burns told listeners. ''Many of us have lost a friend, a colleague and an absolutely, thoroughly delightful human being.''

''She was always willing to lend her professional advice,'' Burns said. ''If someone was having a financial difficulty, she did her level best to guide them through the shoals of that experience.''

State government workers in Olympia, Wash., were mourning the loss of Don Shaw, a former Snohomish County school principal and librarian who ran tour programs at the Legislative Building.

Shaw, 63, was a father of six and grandfather of 13.

''He was just a really warm person, incredibly well-liked,'' said Sandy DeShaw, manager of visitor services at the Capitol. ''He felt like he was contributing in a positive way.

''It's a huge loss to us. His friends and co-workers are just incredibly saddened.''

Secretary of State Ralph Munro set a wreath outside his office with a book in which people could express condolences to Shaw's family, including his wife Earlene, who works in the legislative members' cafeteria.


Gilbert Manning of Spokane, Wash., hoped in vain that his youngest daughter, Sarah Pearson, 36, of Seattle, an Alaska Airlines flight attendant on vacation, was not on the plane.

''I think she could calm the world, just by her smile. She could make people laugh all the time,'' Manning said.

Lost with her in the crash were her husband, Rod Pearson, co-owner of two Seattle restaurants, and their children, Rachel, 6, and Grace, 23 months.

''Rod was finally at a time in his life where he could take some time off,'' Manning said.

''God has a funny way of making you suffer,'' he said. ''I feel like Job right now.''

AP-NY-02-02-00 0646EST


Boeing Urges Inspections of MD-80s


.c The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (Feb. 10, 00) - Every airline that flies MD-80 series jetliners is being asked to inspect the popular planes after a damaged piece of equipment was recovered from the wreckage of Alaska Airlines Flight 261.

Boeing Co. on Wednesday asked mechanics to specifically check the jackscrew, the part recovered from the crash site. The jackscrew moves the horizontal stabilizer, a navigation part that is at the center of the investigation into the Jan. 31 crash off the California coast that killed 88 people.

The recommendation covers about 2,000 planes in the MD-80 series, including the Alaska Airlines plane, as well as MD-90s, DC-9s and Boeing 717s.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it will study the inspection records and order further action if it finds evidence of a safety problem.

''This is the right and prudent thing to do,'' FAA spokesman Eliot Brenner said. ''We've been talking to the carriers and strongly encouraging them to make this inspection as rapidly as possible.''

More than 1,100 MD-80 series aircraft are flown by nearly 70 airlines worldwide, making them some of the most popular commercial jetliners ever built. Boeing announced in 1997 it would phase out the MD-80 and MD-90 passenger aircraft models it inherited when it bought McDonnell Douglas.

Alaska, American and Delta airlines said Wednesday they had begun inspecting their fleets. Some schedule delays were possible, airline officials said.

Alaska Airlines expected to have its 34-plane fleet inspected within hours, American said it would take a week to look at its 284 series planes and Delta said all 136 of its series planes would be inspected by the end of the week.

The jackscrew is powered by two motors and resembles the corkscrew-like device that opens many automatic garage doors. If it was damaged during flight, aviation experts said, the pilots would not be able to control the up-or-down pitch of the aircraft.

Flight 261's cockpit voice recorder revealed that pilots had problems with the horizontal stabilizer after taking off from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for San Francisco and Seattle. The plane eventually plunged into the sea.

A 2-foot section of the jackscrew was recovered with the main wreckage of the MD-83 about 10 miles off the coast. The airline initially said the jackscrew was stripped, but later changed its statement and said only that the screw had been damaged, reflecting the description by the National Transportation Safety Board.

''It was unclear whether the damage was pre-impact or from hitting the water,'' NTSB Chairman James Hall said.

Meanwhile, about 400 people attended a Wednesday night memorial in Seattle for the victims, many of whom were from Washington state.

''This is a real tough time,'' said Kelly Ryan, a United Airlines flight attendant who lost family members in the crash.

The service at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral included music, prayers and chants. Led by Gov. Gary Locke, grieving family members and friends lit candles to show respect for the victims.

''I've had a chance to talk to some of the families and friends of relatives,'' Locke said. ''I think everyone is still in a state of shock.''

AP-NY-02-10-00 0336EST


Many Factors in Alaska Crash Search

.c The Associated Press

Besides searching the main wreckage area 10 miles off the coast of southern California, Navy deep-sea salvage teams are exploring the ocean floor four miles from the Alaska Airlines crash site for parts that might have torn off the jetliner.

National Transportation Safety Board officials used radar hits to identify what appeared to be debris falling away from the aircraft as it began its fatal dive on Jan. 31.

Finding the pieces depends on the size of the search area, the sea floor's terrain and the number of other submerged objects that could provide false leads.

''If there are a bunch of other needles in the haystack and you're looking for a particular one, you could pull that wrong one out a dozen times,'' Jonathan Howland, a research engineer with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said Wednesday.

If the wreckage fell in shipping lanes, for instance, it could be mixed with general debris scattered across the sea floor, providing myriad hits on the side-scan sonar, Howland said. Even natural features could be confused with the wreckage, he said.

''It can be very difficult to tell whether it's an outcropping of rock or a piece of something manmade,'' he said.

Once sonar detects a ''contact'' - something that might be what crews are searching for - a deep-sea robot examines the object.

AP-NY-02-09-00 2127EST


Data Suggest Alaska Jet May Have Broken Apart


.c The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (Feb. 8, 2000) - Radar data shows a piece of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 may have broken off seconds before the plane plunged into the Pacific, investigators said today.

Analysis of radar and the flight data recorders portray a terrifying final 12 minutes, during which the MD-83 jetliner went into a 7,000-foot dive, then regained some semblance of control for about nine minutes. Then it pitched nose-down, rolled upside down and plunged 17,900 feet into the ocean in just over a minute.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman James Hall's detailed description didn't fix a cause for the Jan. 31 crash 10 miles off Southern California that killed all 88 people aboard the flight from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco and Seattle were killed.

The new data showed the pilots struggling with the plane's horizontal stabilizer - the part of the tail that controls up-and-down motion - and a part suspected in the crash from the start of the investigation.

There was no immediate indication whether the part that may have come off the plane was from the stabilizer.

Hall displayed a chart at a Washington, D.C., briefing showing the plane's path as determined by radar. The chart marks a point just before the final plunge where radar picked up a reading that could indicate a piece separating from the plane and drifting with the wind as it fell into the ocean.

``These primary radar hits might be indicative - and I emphasize might be indicative - of something coming off Flight 261 at this point,'' Hall said.

Navy ships have been sent to search the sea floor where the object would have landed, about four miles from the main body of the plane's wreckage, Hall said.

Hall said that video mapping of the crash site was complete and an 8-foot section of the left horizontal stabilizer and some portions of the central stabilizer had been recovered.

The remains of three victims had been positively identified and the families notified, Hall said.

In the week since the crash, three U.S. jetliners have returned to their gates because of stabilizer problems.

Airline officials said Monday at least two of the incidents probably can be traced to pilots inadvertently overheating the motors by repeatedly testing the equipment.

``It may be that some pilots are being overly cautious and are running through their checks several more times than they typically do,'' said Jack Evans, an Alaska Airlines spokesman.

The horizontal stabilizer is a moveable, 40-foot wing mounted high on the aircraft's tail. It guides the up-and-down motion of the plane during flight, and is controlled by two motors that turn a jackscrew, similar to the mechanism that controls garage door openers.

During a flight, the motors make more than 100 adjustments, slightly changing the pitch as the airliner uses fuel and as other conditions shift.

On the ground, the motors can last up to 90 seconds before overheating and shutting down. It is usually not a problem in flight because of the cold temperatures at higher altitudes.

The motors should become operative again after cooling down for several minutes, said John Thom, spokesman for Boeing, which bought McDonnell Douglas, maker of the MD-80 series planes, in 1997.

``We are getting the word out there (to pilots) to make sure you give enough time for these motors to cool down if you do go through the check again,'' Evans said.

Today, Boeing issued recommendations that any pilot with a stabilizer problem simply complete the operating manual checklist and, if that doesn't work, attempt no more troubleshooting.

``Priority should be given to landing at the nearest suitable airport or where maintenance can be performed,'' Boeing said in an update to operators of the DC-9, MD-80, MD-90 and Boeing 717.

Another, apparently unrelated, incident involving an Alaska Airlines jetliner occurred Monday night when an MD-80 made an emergency landing at San Francisco International Airport moments after takeoff because sparks were seen flying from an engine.

It was not clear today what caused the problems with the plane that had come from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, stopped in San Francisco, then headed on to Seattle - the same flight path as Flight 261.

No injuries were reported and passengers traveling to Seattle were put on another plane.

On Saturday, an Alaska Airlines MD-83 jet returned to the airport in Reno, Nev., minutes after taking off for Seattle. The NTSB is investigating, but the airline said it was probably caused by an overheated stabilizer motor.

On Thursday, an Alaska MD-80 taxiing toward the runway in Seattle experienced ``intermittent problems'' with the stabilizer motor. After returning to the gate, the parts were swapped out and the plane took off without incident.

An American Airlines MD-83 flight out of Phoenix returned to the gate last week with a stabilizer problem, but investigators said it may have been caused by a faulty control switch in the cockpit.

AP-NY-02-08-00 1516EST


Loud Noise Recorded Before Crash


.c The Associated Press

PORT HUENEME, Calif. (Feb. 4, 00) - One of the ''black boxes'' aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 261 recorded a loud noise in the minutes before the MD-83 went out of control and plunged into the ocean, a federal investigator said Friday.

The noise was one of two revealed by analysis of the cockpit voice recorder, said John Hammerschmidt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The tape revealed new details of what occurred on the flight in its last minutes as the pilots struggled to control a problem with the horizontal stabilizer - the wide part of the tail that keeps a plane flying level.

The plane nose-dived into the Pacific Ocean en route from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco on Monday, killing all 88 aboard.

About 12 minutes before the end of the recording the plane apparently lost vertical control, Hammerschmidt said.

The crew recovered control in about 1 1/2 minutes. Some time later, a flight attendant is heard telling the pilots of a loud noise from the rear of the jet.

''The crew acknowledged that they had heard it too,'' Hammerschmidt said.

A second noise, which was actually recorded by the device, then sounded just near the end of the tape.

''Slightly more than one minute before the end of the recording, a loud noise can be heard on the recording and the airplane appears to go out of control,'' he said.

The plane has an audible alarm to indicate a stall, or dangerous loss of lift. No such warning is heard on the tape, Hammerschmidt said.

The noises - and the fact that control was regained after the first sound - are consistent with a worsening structural or mechanical problem in the tail, said William Waldock, associate director of the Center for Aerospace Safety Education at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

''It sounds like something failed in the tail, and it certainly would account for a jammed stabilizer,'' he said, but cautioned that it was impossible to diagnose the noises without a better description of them.

The noises could have originated from any number of problems, including structural failure or a compressor stall in the engines caused by erratic airflow, said C.O. Miller, who headed the NTSB's Bureau of Safety during much of the 1980s.

Hammerschmidt said the investigation was progressing rapidly, including work by a Navy vessel using side-scan sonar to map debris in the Santa Barbara Channel about 10 miles from shore.

Sonar appeared to show the debris in a single concentration within an area the size of a football field, and the survey was continuing one mile out in each direction, he said.

Some of the debris has been videotaped by a remote-operated underwater vehicle. Most of the debris examined so far were pieces about 5 feet or 6 feet long, but there was a section of fuselage estimated to be 10 feet long.

The submersible has sent up video of the tail and a 5-foot section of the leading edge of the horizontal stablizer, Hammerschmidt said. The stabilizer is 40 feet long.

The process of getting sonar pictures of the ocean floor - sailors call it ''mowing the lawn'' - had been expected to take two to three days, but Hammerschmidt said it would likely be completed Friday.

After that, remote-operated vehicles like the one that salvaged the plane's ''black box'' flight recorders will be sent down to take video images and eventually help retrieve bodies and wreckage.

''You can't do it overnight,'' said Navy Capt. Terry Labrecque. ''You have to be methodical.''

The NTSB has previously said that radio transmissions and eyewitness reports from other commercial pilots in the area show the plane turned upside down or ''corkscrewed'' into the water following a series of increasingly desperate maneuvers that lasted at least half an hour.

Also Friday, relatives of victims - many of whom worked for or were connected with Alaska Airlines - were preparing for another private memorial, set for Saturday in the Pepperdine University chapel overlooking the ocean in Malibu. On Sunday, the Coast Guard planned to drop flowers from that service over the crash site.

Fifteen members of various bands of American Indians gathered on marshland near Point Mugu Friday for a ceremony in honor of victim Morris Thompson and his family.

A prominent Athabaskan Indian leader in Alaska and former commissioner for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Thompson, 61, his wife, Thelma, and daughter Sheryl were killed in the crash.

The Indians burned sage to cleanse their spirits; passed a pipe, which is a symbol of life; took turns leading tribal chants; then turned east, west, south and north, some pointing feathers to the sky, to honor the four directions.

Only four bodies have been recovered. Relatives waited for word on further efforts to bring back remains.

The wreckage lies in an underwater canyon beneath the Santa Barbara Channel, where depths range from 90 feet at the edges to 700 feet.

AP-NY-02-04-00 2120EST


Beach Memorial for Alaska Air Crash


.c The Associated Press

PORT HUENEME, Calif. (AP) - Wading out into the chilly Pacific along a flower-strewn white beach, mourners bid farewell to the 88 passengers and crew of Alaska Airlines Flight 261.

A bright orange Coast Guard helicopter hovered overhead Thursday before flying out to drop flowers and photographs of the dead into the shimmering blue water. A skywriting plane outlined a heart and a cross in smoke over the private beachside ceremony.

About 200 mourners met inside the Point Mugu Naval Air Weapons Station, about 10 miles from the crash site in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Some friends and family members cradled bouquets of white roses and baby's breath in their arms on their way to the base. Others carried white cartons filled with lunches, sunscreen, tissues and pen and paper.

``The purpose of it is to allow them to ... either keep a journal, write a note and leave it or maybe communicate their feelings to each another,'' said Barbara Jean, a Red Cross worker.

Alaska Airlines and the National Transportation Safety Board officials helped arrange the caravan. Red Cross spokesman Chris Thomas said the visit was ``one step in the recovery process.'' Reporters were kept away.

At the base, a few mourners wandered along the shore alone or in small clusters. Others waded into the chilly surf. Some placed flowers along the shore.

Alaska Airlines employees traveled separately to the site, where they laid flowers and clutched one another's arms as they walked in the sand.

Across the country, the airline held a minute of silence for the victims. The employees stopped working at 4:36 p.m., near the time of the crash. At Burbank Airport, employees held hands in a large circle on the tarmac. The airline never again will use the number 261 for a flight.

A local pastor and business owners held a public memorial later in the day at Port Hueneme Pier, where residents placed balloons, flowers and candles at the base of three palm trees.

Grieving continued elsewhere.

In Bellingham, Wash., home of Western Washington University, memories turned to a six-member circle of friends who shared a bond that dated to college, even high school.

Jim Ryan, Russel Ing, Deborah Penna, Michael Bernard, and Ryan and Abigail Busche died together when Flight 261 crashed Monday.

``They were closer than brothers and sisters could have been,'' said Russel Ing's father, Winston Ing of Mercer Island, Wash. ``Now they're gone - just like that.''

The core of the group was formed in the 1980s on Mercer Island, where Ing and Penna became close friends in high school.

They met the others at Western Washington, and stuck together even after most of the gang graduated and moved out of Bellingham in 1996. They ranged in age from 27 to 30.

``You were able to express yourself on any kind of level and never have to worry about being judged,'' said Allen Temple, a Bellingham resident who knew Penna.

Friends of the group said it was Ryan - a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines - who made a point of arranging trips, such as month-long biking and hiking trips, to keep the group close.

He had organized the trip to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate his 30th birthday and brought along his brother, Brad, and his parents, Terry and Barbara Ryan. All died.

``My consolation is that maybe they were all holding hands with their very best friends,'' said Ing's mother, Pierrette.

``Just this morning I felt that it's like they're all together. They all loved the water. And every time I go to the beach, I'll be able to talk to them.''

AP-NY-02-04-00 0519EST


Key Pieces of Alaska Airlines Jet Found


.c The Associated Press

PORT HUENEME, Calif. (Feb. 4, 00) - With startling speed, investigators have located key pieces of evidence in the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261: both ''black boxes'' and the tail control singled out by the pilots before the jet's plunge into the Pacific.

The flight data recorder was recovered from the ocean floor Thursday, not far from where the cockpit voice recorder was found a day earlier. Also spotted were pieces of the tail, one with the airline's distinctive logo of a smiling Alaskan native.

The parts were in about 650 feet of water 10 miles offshore, where the MD-83 crashed Monday, killing all 88 people aboard.

A Navy submersible sent up video images of a piece of the fuselage with four windows, several pieces up to six feet wide and numerous smaller pieces, said John Hammerschmidt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Also captured were pictures of the tail's horizontal stabilizer, which has been the focus of the investigation.

NTSB Chairman James Hall said salvagers have seen pieces of the tail section. ''Once we have been able to complete mapping of the debris field, those are one of the first pieces of structure we will attempt to bring to the surface,'' he said today on ABC's ''Good Morning America.''

Hammerschmidt declined to say whether searchers had found any bodies, some of which are believed trapped under the debris. Recovery efforts were to resume today.

Friends and relatives of the victims gathered Thursday on a beach facing the Santa Barbara Channel for a private memorial.

A few mourners roamed the shore alone, some clustered in small groups and others waded into the surf. They gathered as a group inside the Point Mugu Naval Air Weapons Station, where they were kept away from reporters.

The cause of the crash has not been determined, but investigators have disclosed much detail about the flight bound from Mexico to San Francisco and Seattle.

Citing the voice recorder, the NTSB said the pilots were discussing a problem with the horizontal stabilizer at least 30 minutes before the crash. The stabilizer, a wing on the tail of an aircraft, is designed to adjust - or trim - the up-or-down angle of an aircraft's nose.

At one point, according to Hall, the pilots did regain control of Flight 261 - and then it was ''suddenly lost.''

Investigators are looking into the possibility that the pilots put the plane into its fatal dive by following proper procedures for correcting a stabilizer problem, the Los Angeles Times reported today, citing unidentified NTSB sources.

While the NTSB was expected to begin making a transcript of the cockpit conversation today, the data recorder, which tracks electrical and mechanical operations during a flight, could reveal if the stabilizer problem was what brought the plane down.

''That will tell the tale,'' said William Waldock, associate director for the Center for Aerospace Safety Education at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Contrary to earlier media reports, there were no signs of mechanical trouble with the plane on its two previous flights - from Seattle to San Francisco and from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta, Hammerschmidt said.

He also discussed interviews conducted with Alaska Airlines mechanics in Seattle and Los Angeles. They described helping the pilots troubleshoot a ''runaway stabilizer,'' which forced the plane's nose down.

At one point, the pilots asked a Los Angeles mechanic if there were any hidden circuit breakers to cut off power to the stabilizer. That suggests they already had shut off one set of circuit breakers - a standard remedy for a runaway stabilizer, also known as runaway trim.

Jammed or out-of-control horizontal stabilizers have led to at least a half-dozen emergency landings but never a crash of a commercial airplane, federal records show.

If the horizontal stabilizer starts moving on its own - a state of runaway trim - pilots can usually stop it by pulling circuit breakers and using other controls. In most cases, it will stop before reaching an extreme angle.

In most aircraft, including the MD-83, a jammed stabilizer can be overridden by moving elevators attached to its trailing edge and controlled by pulling forward or backward on the yoke in the cockpit.

If it jammed at an extreme position, the pilots must exert more pressure on the yoke but still should be able to maintain control.

Though stabilizer problems are rare, regulators last May gave airlines 18 months to inspect hinges connecting parts of the tail for signs of corrosion. An error during manufacture can cause the hinges to rust more easily.

The Alaska Airlines jet that crashed had not yet undergone the inspection, but 10 of the MD-80s in the fleet did and showed no unusual corrosion, said airline spokesman David Marriott. Records on other airlines' fleets were not immediately available.

AP-NY-02-04-00 0926EST


Second Alaska Air Black Box Found

Tape Shows Jet Turned Upside Down


.c The Associated Press

PORT HUENEME, Calif. (Feb. 3, 00) - The cockpit voice recorder recovered from the Pacific details the Alaska Airlines crew desperately trying to regain control as the jetliner carrying 88 people flew upside down before crashing, federal investigators said today. They also said they had found the second ``black box.''

The cockpit recorder captured slightly more than 30 minutes of conversation, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman James Hall told reporters in Washington.

``The crew made references to being inverted that are consistent with the witness statements to that effect,'' Hall said.

The tape starts with the crew discussing a problem with a tail part called the horizontal stabilizer, which keeps the plane level. The crew then decided to divert to Los Angeles International Airport, but the problem became worse. The crew then struggled to pull out of a nosedive, regaining some control while continuing to troubleshoot and prepare for landing.

``Then control was suddenly lost,'' Hall said.

Hall's account came from an initial review of the cockpit voice recorder, which was recovered Wednesday from the debris of the MD-83.

Remote operated vehicles searching the ocean floor today found the flight data recorder, the companion box that has details of the plane's mechanical operation, said John Hammerschmidt, a member of the NTSB.

Its discovery came hours after searchers recovered the pinger for the recorder, which was no longer attached to the device. Around midday the recorder was being brought to the ocean's surface.

The NTSB has also begun analyzing a recording of a radio call from Flight 261's pilots to a Seattle maintenance crew about the stabilizer problem minutes before the crash.

Investigators said witnesses saw no signs of fire or smoke when the jet hit the water in one piece Monday, killing everyone on board during the planned flight from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco and Seattle.

As the plane passed over Anacapa Island, just off the Calilifornia coast, a witness heard several popping sounds and watched the jet turn and hit the water, Hammerschmidt said Wednesday.

``The aircraft was twisting, flying erratically, nose rocking,'' he told reporters late Wednesday. He also said other pilots nearby described the plane as ``tumbling, spinning, nose-down, continuous roll, corkscrewing and inverted.''

Ships with side-scan sonar equipment that can make detailed maps of debris on the ocean floor began searching the crash site today.

The wreckage is well below the 300-foot safety limit for divers - and most of the bodies are believed pinned in the debris on the bottom of the ocean. Searchers have recovered the remains of only four passengers.

Investigators expected choppier waters as a light storm moved toward Southern California today. The beaches were mostly clear of debris, but rough seas could begin to wash ashore more remnants of the craft.

The search for survivors was called off Wednesday over the protest of some family members who held out hope that someone might still be alive in the chilly waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. The search had gone on for 41 hours and included dozens of Coast Guard, Navy and civilian ships, boats and aircraft that combed a 1,100-square-mile area.

Three buses carrying 100 relatives of crash victims left Los Angeles with a police escort for a private memorial today at Point Mugu. They carried red and white bouquets of baby's breath and carnations along with white carton boxes that contained a lunch, suntan lotion, tissue, pen and paper.

``The purpose of (the pen and paper) is to allow them to ... either keep a journal, write a note and leave it or maybe communicate their feelings to one another,'' said Barbara Jean, a worker with the Red Cross, which helped organize the trip.

On Wednesday, a jammed horizontal stabilizer forced an American Airlines MD-80 to return to Phoenix 20 minutes after it took off for Dallas on Wednesday. The plane is part of the same series of aircraft as the Alaska MD-83 that crashed.

On Wednesday, The Seattle Times reported the plane that crashed this week had horizontal stabilizer problems on its trip to Puerto Vallarta, its next-to-the-last flight.

Hall said today he did not think such reports were ``exactly correct. ... What we are doing this morning in California, we will be interviewing the crew of the previous flight.''

Airline spokesman Jack Evans in Seattle also denied the report: ``We stand by what we said earlier this week, which is that we're not aware of any maintenance anomalies with this aircraft.''

AP-NY-02-03-00 1550EST


Alaska Air Flight Recorder Recovered

.c The Associated Press

PORT HUENEME, Calif. (Feb. 2, 00) - An unmanned vehicle recovered one of the ''black box'' recorders Wednesday that could hold the answer to the cause of the Alaska Airlines crash.

The remote controlled vehicle, operating in up to 700 feet of water, brought up the cockpit voice recorder, said Terry Williams, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.

A similar device that records flight data was not immediately recovered, he said.

Searchers had a fix on the data recorder using pinging signals emitted by its locator beacon, he said.

The recorder - actually painted bright orange despite its popular name - was brought to the surface clutched in the mechanical claw of the boxy yellow submersible.

Alaska Flight 261 plunged into the Pacific off Southern California on Monday as the pilots struggled with mechanical problems. Killed were 88 crew and passengers returning home to San Francisco and Seattle from vacations in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Investigators said Wednesday they were looking into a report that the plane had problems with a part of the tail called the horizontal stabilizer on the flight to Mexico.

Records of radio conversations between the pilots and air traffic controllers showed the crew was struggling with stabilizer problems before the plane crashed.

Authorities also began analyzing recordings of the pilots' conversations with a Seattle maintenance crew, which were made while the pilots tried to control the plane in the terrifying moments before it nose dived into the sea.

Earlier, dozens of ships were ordered to abandon the search for survivors and shift their focus to recovering flight recorders and wreckage.

The search for survivors was called off over the protest of some family members who held out hope that some of the plane's passengers and crew might still be alive in the chilly waters of the Santa Barbara Channel.

''We have far exceeded our estimate of survivability,'' Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thomas Collins said.

On shore, investigators interviewed airline employees about the report that a different crew of pilots complained of problems with the aircraft's horizontal stabilizer as they headed toward Puerto Vallarta on Monday.

The stabilizer keeps the plane flying level.

Alaska Airlines spokesman Jack Evans in Seattle denied the Seattle Times report: ''We stand by what we said earlier this week, which is that we're not aware of any maintenance anomalies with this aircraft.''

NTSB member John Hammerschmidt confirmed that the agency was looking into the newspaper report. Pilots from the earlier flight were to be interviewed, he said.

Meanwhile a jammed horizontal stabilizer forced an American Airlines MD-80 to land in Phoenix 20 minutes after takeoff Wednesday, said Phil Frame, a spokesman for the NTSB in Washington. The plane, which had been headed toward Dallas, is part of the same series of aircraft as the Alaska MD-83 that crashed.

Federal investigators were having the flight data recorder from the American Airlines plane sent to them.

Frame knew of no link between the American Airlines incident and the crash investigation, but ''it may have piqued their interest.''

Investigators interviewed pilots who were flying in the area of the crash and may have seen Flight 261 go down.

The audio tapes of the pilots and the Seattle maintenance crew apparently capture an exchange that took place as the pilots tried to troubleshoot what was going wrong, Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said on morning talk shows.

''Obviously these pilots were struggling to maintain control of this aircraft for a significant period of time. It's going to be very important to this investigation,'' Hall said.

The tape was handed over Tuesday to federal investigators by Alaska Airlines in Washington, D.C., Hall said.

The search for survivors had gone on for 41 hours and included dozens of Coast Guard, Navy and civilian ships, boats and aircraft that combed a 1,100-square-mile area.

About 80 family members had arrived at an assistance center in the Renaissance Hotel in Los Angeles by Tuesday night and another 50 were expected to show up Wednesday, said Chris Thomas, an American Red Cross volunteer.

Many of those who had arrived at the hotel remained in a state of shock, he said.

''I just want to know that our family members didn't suffer and that it was just fast,'' said Janis Ost Ford, whose brother Bob Ost was on board the plane.

Alaska Airlines and Red Cross officials planned to take family members to the coast near the crash site Thursday.

''They will be able to deal with the emotional responses; they'll be able to see the search-and-rescue recovery process,'' Thomas said.

As the operation entered a third day, several ships used for salvage arrived at Port Hueneme, including Navy vessels equipped with advanced side-scan sonar that can be used to map debris on the bottom.

The wreckage is about 700 feet down. Divers cannot operate below about 300 feet, so the search is being carried out by three unmanned vehicles.

If one of the plane's two recorders - the flight data recorder - was programmed to monitor the stabilizer, it might reveal the condition of the stabilizer when the jet went down. If not, officials would have to deduce what happened by studying how other systems performed before the crash.

AP-NY-02-02-00 2122EST


The Final Minutes of Flight 261

.c The Associated Press

Summary of the last radio exchanges of Alaska Airlines Flight 261, described by John Hammerschmidt of the National Transportation Safety Board. These are not direct quotes from pilots and controllers, but are based on what NTSB called a ''rough transcript.''

Times are Pacific Standard.

-3:55 p.m.: Last routine transmission before problems are reported. Los Angeles ATC (air traffic control center located in Palmdale, Calif.) clears Flight 261 to head for San Francisco at 31,000 feet.

-4:10: Flight 261 advises it is having control difficulties and descends to 26,000 feet.

-Seconds later: Flight 261 reports it is at 23,700 feet. Discussion about pilots having trouble controlling the plane.

-10 seconds later: ATC asks Flight 261 what altitude it wants to maintain.

-4:11: ATC asks Flight 261 its condition.

-Flight 261 advises it is ''kind of stabilized,'' in Hammerschmidt's words, and is going to do some troubleshooting.

-Flight 261 asks for clearance to fly between 20,000 and 25,000 feet.

-ATC gives clearance.

-4:14: ATC asks if Flight 261 needs anything.

-Flight 261 responds that pilots are still working on problem.

-Seconds later: Discussion between air traffic controllers about handing off control of plane from one sector to the next.

-4:15: ATC traffic control hands off to a new controller who was aware of its problems.

-Seconds later: Flight 261 advises it has a jammed stabilizer and difficulty maintaining altitude. Pilots think they can maintain altitude and land at Los Angeles International Airport.

-4:16: Flight 261 cleared to land at LAX. ATC asks if flight needs a lower altitude.

-Flight 261 says it needs to get to 10,000 feet and change configuration - set the wing flaps to slow the plane down - while over water.

-ATC issues clearance to 17,000 feet.

-Flight 261 says OK and advises it needs a block of altitudes. Last known transmission of Flight 261.

-4:17: ATC advises Flight 261 to contact another sector on a different frequency. Transmission not acknowledged.

-4:21: Flight 261 is lost off radar.

AP-NY-02-01-00 1820EST


Crash Comes Amid Rough Times for Alaska Airlines

Carrier Has No Room To Grow, Repair Records Investigated


.c The Associated Press

SEATTLE (Feb. 2, 00) - It's said that the closest thing Alaska has to a mass transit system is Alaska Airlines.

For 19 Alaskan cities and towns, from metropolitan Anchorage to rural King Salmon and remote Barrow, Alaska Airlines serves as a link to the rest of the United States.

In each of the last 27 years, the airline has carried more people from Alaska to the lower 48 states than any other airline, according to Alaska Air Group, the company which operates Alaska Airlines and the smaller Horizon Airlines, a regional carrier in the Pacific Northwest.

The airline, which has the image of an Eskimo painted on the tails of its planes, also ferries people throughout Alaska and is the leading carrier in Washington and Oregon as well.

``In its market, Alaska Airlines is dominant,'' said Brian Harris, a financial analyst with Salomon Smith Barney.

And until Monday, it could also boast it was among the safest air carriers in the United States.

The airline had gone 24 years without a fatal accident before one of the company's jets plummeted into the sea off the California coast Monday night, taking 88 people down with it.

The crash comes amid a rough patch for Alaska Airlines, which serves more than 40 cities in Alaska, Canada, Mexico and five Western states.

The company had to severely reduce costs in the mid-1990s to stay competitive with Southwest Airlines and Northwest Airlines as they pushed into the Seattle market, where Alaska is based. Today, with both competitors dominant in the mountain states and California, Alaska finds itself hemmed in - strong at home, but with little room to grow.

``It is not a growth airline,'' Harris said.

Also, in the past year, Alaska Airlines has been the subject of federal grand jury investigation in Oakland over maintenance and repair records for some MD-80s.

A Federal Aviation Administration report concluded that records were falsified on two MD-80s that made 840 flights in late 1998 and early 1999. Because of the altered records, the aircraft were considered ``unairworthy,'' FAA documents said.

John Kelly, chairman and chief executive of Alaska Airlines, said the plane that crashed was not one of those involved in the investigation. An airline spokesman said the investigation focused on record keeping, not the safety of the airplanes.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment, citing grand jury secrecy rules.

Until this week, Alaska Airlines' most recent fatal crash was on April 5, 1976, when one passenger was killed when an airplane overran the runway in Ketchikan, Alaska.

The airline traces its roots to McGee Airways, which started flying between Anchorage and Bristol Bay with a three-passenger plane in 1933. The Alaska Airlines name was adopted in 1944; it acquired Horizon Air in 1986.

The rough terrain and weather in Alaska prompted the company to become an early adopter of new technologies. In 1989, an Alaska Airlines 727 jet was the first commercial craft to land in dense fog using a heads-up guidance system, which projects flight information on a transparent screen, allowing the pilot to monitor instruments without having to look down at the control panel.

AP-NY-02-02-00 0046EST


Grand Jury Investigating Airline


.c The Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - A federal grand jury has been investigating a whistle-blower's complaints of maintenance irregularities at the Alaska Airlines servicing center in Oakland.

With three fatal crashes in six decades of flying, Alaska Airlines has one of the best safety records in the business and airline officials say the alleged violations involved record-keeping only, not safety issues.

However, the grand jury is investigating a senior mechanic's allegations of irregularities in maintenance and repair records for a handful of MD-80 jetliners. The Federal Aviation Administration also was investigating the airline, said Mitch Barker, an FAA spokesman.

Barker declined Tuesday to discuss details of the FAA investigation, which he said is on hold pending the outcome of the federal grand jury probe. However, he said the jet that crashed Monday carrying 88 passengers was not involved in the probe.

The downed airplane was a Boeing MD-83, part of the MD-80 series aircraft built by McDonnell Douglas that is the workhorse of Alaska Airlines' fleet.

FAA records show the company's maintenance procedures came under scrutiny in late 1998 after an Alaska Airlines senior mechanic, John Liotine, said the inspection of an MD-80 jetliner had gone awry and fallen behind schedule, resulting in instructions to less-experienced mechanics to perform some tasks out of sequence to save time.

Liotine told The Seattle Times he told a company vice president about serious maintenance irregularities in early December, then went to the FAA after the executive failed to act.

In a written statement to the FAA, Liotine wrote that the company did not correct problems and lacked ``interest by our management to honestly deal with these causes.''

The FAA inspector in Oakland concluded that Alaska allowed two MD-80 jets to be flown 844 times from Oct. 7, 1998, through Jan. 19, 1999, ``in an unairworthy condition'' because portions of document maintenance records remained unfilled.

The FAA discussed recommending that the mechanic licenses of three airline supervisors in Oakland be revoked and the company be fined $44,000. But Barker said Tuesday there had been no formal penalty notice issued because of the grand jury investigation.

Liotine's union later removed him as president of its local in Oakland and Alaska placed him on leave with pay for a period last fall. He told several news organizations that he does not want to talk about the investigation.

Until Monday's crash of Flight 261, the most recent Alaska Airlines fatal accident was in 1976, when one person died as a Boeing 727 overran a runway at Ketchikan, Alaska. In 1971, 111 died when an Alaska Airlines 727 crashed into a mountain on approach to Juneau, Alaska.

AP-NY-02-02-00 0657EST


Alaska Air Flight Recorder Recovered

.c The Associated Press

PORT HUENEME, Calif. (Feb. 2, 00) - An unmanned vehicle recovered one of the ''black box'' recorders Wednesday that could hold the answer to the cause of the Alaska Airlines crash.

The remote controlled vehicle, operating in up to 700 feet of water, brought up the cockpit voice recorder, said Terry Williams, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.

A similar device that records flight data was not immediately recovered, he said.

Searchers had a fix on the data recorder using pinging signals emitted by its locator beacon, he said.

The recorder - actually painted bright orange despite its popular name - was brought to the surface clutched in the mechanical claw of the boxy yellow submersible.

Alaska Flight 261 plunged into the Pacific off Southern California on Monday as the pilots struggled with mechanical problems. Killed were 88 crew and passengers returning home to San Francisco and Seattle from vacations in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Investigators said Wednesday they were looking into a report that the plane had problems with a part of the tail called the horizontal stabilizer on the flight to Mexico.

Records of radio conversations between the pilots and air traffic controllers showed the crew was struggling with stabilizer problems before the plane crashed.

AP-NY-02-02-00 2112EST


Alaska Airlines Crash Probe Begins


.c The Associated Press

OXNARD, Calif. (Feb. 1, 2000) - Investigators trying to learn what sent an Alaska Airlines jet with 88 people aboard plunging into the Pacific Ocean had at least one clue today: the pilot sought an emergency landing after reporting problems with equipment designed to keep the plane aloft.

No survivors had been found by this morning. Several bodies were recovered from the 58-degree water, Coast Guard Lt. Chuck Diorio said, but he could not give a specific number.

The Coast Guard and commercial squid boats continued to search the debris field 10 miles from shore in water from 300 feet to 750 feet deep. As the stench of airline fuel hung in the air, the boats used nets to haul in grim reminders of lives lost: a tennis shoe, a stuffed animal and a number of small souvenirs from Mexico.

``Every resource is out there to find people,'' Coast Guard Capt. George Wright said. ``We're actively searching for survivors.''

Flight 261 from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco and Seattle hit the water 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles International Airport at 4:36 p.m. Monday. The weather was clear at the time.

Moments before the crash - described by a witness as a nose dive - one of the two pilots radioed that he was having trouble with ``stabilizer trim'' and asked to be diverted to Los Angeles for an emergency landing, airline spokesman Jack Evans said.

``Radar indicates it fell from 17,000 feet and then was lost from radar,'' San Francisco airport spokesman Ron Wilson told KRON-TV.

The flight was normal and stable until the crew reported control problems, said a source with close knowledge of the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity. Radar showed the plane, an MD-83, plummeting toward the sea shortly afterward.

On MD-80 series airplanes, the horizontal stabilizer looks like a small wing mounted on top of the tail. The stabilizer, which includes panels that pitch the nose up and down, is brought into balance, or ``trimmed,'' from the cockpit.

If a plane loses its horizontal stabilizer, there is no way to keep the nose pointed to the proper angle, and the aircraft will begin an uncontrollable dive.

Evans said the plane had no previous stabilizer problems, and Federal Aviation Administration spokesman John Clabes said it had never been in an accident.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators were expected to be on hand by tonight.

``We will do anything and everything to find out exactly what transpired,'' airline Chairman John Kelly said late Monday.

A National Park Service ranger on Anacapa Island, off the coast of Oxnard, saw the airliner go down and was first to report it, said spokeswoman Susan Smith at the Channel Islands National Park headquarters in Ventura Harbor.

``He observed a jet going down in the Santa Barbara Channel. From his observation it was nose first,'' Smith said.

There were 83 passengers and five crew members aboard, Evans said.

Of the passengers, 32 were bound for San Francisco, 47 for Seattle, three were continuing on to Eugene, Ore., and one to Fairbanks, Alaska. The two pilots were based in Los Angeles and the three flight attendants were based in Seattle.

The passengers included three airline employees, four employees of sister airline Horizon and 23 relatives or friends of the employees.

Both pilots were Alaska Airlines veterans. Capt. Ted Thompson, 53, was hired Aug. 16, 1982, and had 10,400 flying hours with the company. First Officer William Tansky, 57, was hired July 17, 1985, and had 8,047 flying hours with the Seattle-based airline.

The plane itself was built by McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing, and delivered to Alaska Airlines in 1992, said John Thom, a spokesman for Boeing's Douglas aircraft unit.

Evans said the plane was serviced on Sunday, went through a low-level maintenance check on Jan. 11 and had a more thorough routine check last January.

Alaska Airlines, which has the image of an Eskimo painted on the tails of its planes, has an excellent safety record. It serves more than 40 cities in Alaska, Canada, Mexico and five Western states.

It had two fatal accidents in the 1970s, both in Alaska.

The MD-80 series is a twin-jet version of the more widely known DC-9, with a single aisle and an engine on each side of the tail. It went into service in 1980 and of the 1,167 series planes delivered, Boeing reported last year, only nine had been lost in accidents.

Before this week, the most recent fatal crash in the United States involving an MD-80 series jet was last summer's American Airlines accident in Little Rock, Ark. Eleven people died and 110 were injured when an MD-82 trying to land in a storm ran off a runway, broke apart and caught fire.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Associated Press Writer Glen Johnson contributed to this report.

AP-NY-02-01-00 0637EST


Jet Crashes Off California Coast

.c The Associated Press

OXNARD, Calif. (Jan. 31, 00) - An Alaska Airlines jet carrying 65 passengers and five crew members from Mexico to San Francisco crashed Monday in the Pacific Ocean after reporting mechanical difficulties.

Flight 261 from Puerto Vallarta was reported down 20 miles northwest of the Los Angeles airport about 3:45 p.m., the Federal Aviation Administration said. Pieces of wreckage could be seen in the water, but there was no sign of survivors.

Cynthia Emery, FAA flight operations officer in Seattle, confirmed the number of passengers and crew on the doomed jetliner.

FAA spokesman Mitch Barker said the plane was a Boeing 737. Boeing spokesman Craig Martin said the company was told by Alaska Airlines that the plane was an MD-80.

A Coast Guard helicopter, a Navy airplane and small boats were searching a large field of debris rolling in swells off Point Mugu as darkness began to descend on the ocean.

''Right now they are searching for survivors,'' said Coast Guard Lt. Jeanne Reincke. ''They see a large debris field, but that's all we've heard from them.''

The jet's crew had reported mechanical difficulties and asked to land at Los Angeles, said Ron Wilson, a spokesman for the San Francisco airport.

''Radar indicates it fell from 17,000 feet and then was lost from radar,'' Wilson told KRON-TV in San Francisco.

The flight was scheduled to continue to Seattle after San Francisco.

On Sunday, a Kenya Airways flight crashed into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after take off from Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The Airbus 310 carried 10 crew members and 169 passengers. At least 10 people survived.

Last Oct. 31, EgyptAir Flight 990 plummeted into the ocean 60 miles south of the Massachusetts island of Nantucket. All 217 people aboard the Boeing 767 were killed.

The 737 is the most commonly used commercial airplane in the world.

Alaska Airlines has an excellent safety record and has built itself into a western power by flying north-south routes on the West Coast. Its headquarters are in Seattle.

The chief flight inspector at the airport in Puerto Vallarta, a resort on Mexico's Pacific coast, said Alaska Airlines operates a varying number of flights from there every day.

Airport employees in Puerto Vallarta said the airline operates several flights from the Pacific coast resort to San Jose, San Francisco and other California cities.

AP-NY-01-31-00 2052EST


Jet Crashes Off California Coast

LOS ANGELES (Jan. 31) - An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 crashed in the Pacific northwest of Los Angeles on Monday, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said.

Flight 261 from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, was reported down 20 miles northwest of the airport about 3:45 p.m., said Mitch Barker, the FAA regional spokesman in Seattle.

It was not immediately clear whether Los Angeles was the plane's destination.

A large debris field was spotted in the ocean. A Coast Guard helicopter was seen hovering low over the debris.

AP-NY-01-31-00 2004EST