Saturday, February 25, 2006
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Smells, Body Pieces
Picking through the wreckage, they got the first clues.
The engine fan blades were bent backward from the way they rotated, which meant the engines were running when the plane struck the hill. That ruled out engine problems.
In the mangled cockpit, the airspeed indicator was at 264 knots – about 300 mph – the plane's speed at impact.
Passenger belongings littered the woods: boxer shorts with red diamonds, a flight attendant's apron, a Hooters T-shirt, a Purdue University sweat shirt.
There were lots of books: Forrest Gump, the Pocket Prayer Book, Rush Limbaugh's The Way Things Ought to Be, a John Grisham novel, a management training manual called Firing Up Commitments During Organizational Change and the Bible.
And everyday stuff: a garage door opener, family snapshots, a teddy bear, a Swiss Army knife, pocket calculators, a rosary.
Full-size body bags arrived for the victims, but the bodies were in so many pieces that most were taken from the hill in 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bags.
The site was considered a biohazard. Investigators and wreckage were sprayed with a Clorox solution when they left the hill. Summer downpours and the hot rubber suits made for wretched working conditions. The smell of bleach and the unforgettable odor of death made a suffocating stench. Investigators dabbed cologne, orange juice or Vicks VapoRub on their surgical masks to hide the odor. Haueter smeared his mustache with Tiger Balm, a sweet-smelling ointment.
Wayne Tatalovich, the Beaver County coroner, converted an Air Force Reserve hangar into a giant morgue. Identifying the victims went slowly. There were 132 people on the plane, but 2,000 Ziploc bags.