TORONTO – With early evidence indicating nothing wrong with the Air France (search) jet that crashed this week, officials Thursday looked to the "black boxes" for answers — but they were faced with a long delay because of problems in downloading data.
The captain of the Air France jet that crashed and burst into flames Tuesday — yet all 309 people aboard survived — remained in the hospital Thursday and won't be questioned until his physical state improves, officials said.
The co-pilot of Air France Flight 358 was questioned Thursday as investigators try to piece together why the plane skidded off the runway and burst into flames after landing in a ravine. Investigators said details of the co-pilot queries were "privileged" information and would not be made public at this time.
Remarkably, none of the 297 passengers and 12 crew members perished, though as many as 43 passengers suffered minor injuries.
Air France has said the co-pilot was at the controls when the Airbus 340 skidded off runway 24L at Toronto's Lester B. Pearson International Airport (search) during a heavy downpour Tuesday afternoon. Air France said the co-pilot had 10,700 hours of flying time, and the 57-year-old pilot had 15,000 hours.
Real Levasseur, leading the investigation by Canada's Transportation Safety Board (TSB), said the captain of Flight 358 was still in the hospital with injuries to his back. He said he would not be questioned by the team until doctors were satisfied he was in suitable health.
Levasseur told a news conference that investigators don't want to cause any problems for the pilot until they have assurances that "he is capable of talking to us."
The flight attendants — widely praised for their efforts in getting passengers off the burning aircraft within two minutes — were to be interviewed later, he said.
Levasseur said the air crew did not declare an emergency to air traffic controllers as the Airbus A340 approached the runway at 160 mph in heavy rains and lightning at about 4 p.m. It then skidded some 200 yards off east-west runway at 95 mph, he said.
He said preliminary evidence suggests there was nothing wrong with the aircraft, but that still needed to be confirmed.
"The initial landing appeared very normal," he said. "There was no emergency declared on the part of the air crew."
The flight data and voice recorders — the so-called "black boxes" — were recovered Wednesday and send to TSB headquarters in Quebec.
The information they hold will reveal conversations between the pilots and Pearson's control tower in the moments before the passenger jet skidded off the 1.6-mile runway.
However, Levasseur said his team did not have the proper equipment to download the information on those black boxes, so it would take several days for special computer equipment from France. He said that would delay the investigation and removal of the wreckage by several days.
"Once you start moving parts of the aircraft, obviously you lose perishable evidence," he said.
The black boxes may indicate whether the passenger jet experienced brake failure and hydraulic pressure problems during its failed landing.
The wreckage of the jetliner remained off the side of Highway 401, where many of the passengers had wandered after escaping the wreckage.
Passenger Mohammed Abou-Hantash said Thursday he was having trouble sleeping.
"I think it's just being overwhelmed," he told The Associated Press by telephone from his home in Mississauga, Ontario. "You have to repeat the story over and over again and it just gets depressing. You think about what could have happened."
He, like many other passengers, praised the efforts of the Air France crew for getting them off the burning airliner so quickly.
"Obviously there's going to be some chaos," said Abou-Hantash, a 26-year-old engineer. "As far as I'm concerned, they did an excellent job. They got everybody out safely, which is what they're supposed to do."
Levasseur also dismissed questions about whether the east-west runway was long and safe enough, saying it met international standards.
The Air Line Pilots Association, Int'l (search), however, disputed this on Thursday, saying the ravine at the end of the runway may have contributed to the crash.
The group said in a statement that the airpor "does not meet international standards."
"It is the latest in a series of airline accidents that highlight the dangers of inadequate runway safety areas," said the association, which represents 64,000 airline pilots in Canada and the United States.