Transcript for Jan. 31, 2000: Alaska Airlines Plane Crash
Throughout the evening we've been gathering the tragic. Information we have to bring you tonight at about 4:16 PM Pacific time federal aviation officials reported that Alaska Airlines flight 261. And route to San Francisco from Greta wire -- Mexico. Had crashed into the Pacific Ocean. The flight had been scheduled to arrive in San Francisco -- 505 PM instead it felt into the ocean about twenty miles northwest of Los Angeles. The MD 83 was carrying 83 passengers and five crew members according to our information from Alaska Airlines. There are no reports of survivors at this time. -- Coast Guard vessels have recovered several bodies as we speak investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board. The agency with a grim job of figuring out what causes these crashes are preparing to fly to the scene but right now -- Nightline's John Donvan reports. The immediate task is the search for survivors for the Coast Guard still holds out hope. Tonight they're asking for boats with flights to make their way to the crash site fishing boats private -- Anything that can break the darkness that closed in on the site within hours after the plane went down. But before the sunset -- already appeared depressingly unlikely but they would be finding any survivors. The water was full of fuel floating on the surface but barely any debris and no living passengers. The local news reporters knew pretty early where this was heading. It is confirmed now put a plane crash obviously. And so once again we're hoping that that was not the case when we first started the fight this debris field but that is reported -- -- is confirmed. By the FAA -- The flight began in the resort city of -- -- -- to Mexico bound for San Francisco. And Seattle. The San Francisco leg normally takes about ninety minutes but in route a pilot called in a mechanical problem. Pilots radioed a problem with the stabilizer trim and the plane was diverted to Los Angeles. But they never made it to Los Angeles the -- had descended to 171000. Feet and then at 3:45 PM. It dropped from radar as often happens initial reports were confused. We're told that the plane went down today was -- 737. We're just getting information into us now but a spokesman for Boeing which makes the 737. Is now telling us that this was in fact an MD eighty we are -- at this point we have to go I think with what the FAA has told us that the thus far between us if I was that person. From San Francisco airport -- national indicating it also was a 737. It turns out it was an MD 83. One of the MD eighty series designed by McDonnell Douglas. Which is now owned by the Boeing corporation during its long period and service the aircraft has been involved in seven fatal accidents. Nearly all of which could be put down to pilot error or bad weather. Which means the plane itself has a pretty good safety record and Alaska Air says the actual plane which is seen in this 1997 photograph. Was recently checked over. It was just it was indicated on -- funding maintenance records that was serviced yesterday. And I hope it's more details on exactly what it was -- records show. There were early reports that the jet was lying upside down in the water. In this darkness that is difficult to confirm. There are divers in the water. They are -- very disturbed right now being what they could find me if there by any. Their goal by any chance that there that the aircraft that it -- that the Abbot of the aircraft might be attacked. And the water in this stretch of the Pacific -- to 700 feet deep. Tonight the National Transportation Safety Board was putting together a team to investigate why this half thought the team is traveling overnight from Washington. And includes people to assist the families of the passengers who went down with 26 month. This is John Donvan for Nightline in Washington. Our aviation reporter Lisa stark has been working this story at all night and has exclusive details about the last minutes of flight to 61 we -- The show we have talked to sources about what was going on with that plane as it was reporting trouble apparently over the skies of California. Our sources say the plane was cruising at 31000. Feet no apparent problems. Then they reported at about 4:10 PM Pacific time they reported that they were in and -- coming out of 26000. Feet. That they have lost vertical control of the airplane. Our sources say that within about one minute they then managed to get control of that airplane the plane is now at about 24000. Feet. And they apparently told controllers that -- a slow the plane down and try to figure out what the problem was. Some form minutes later they again apparently talked to controllers. Telling them they had a jammed stabilizer. And that they were having trouble maintaining the plane's altitude. It was at that point that they were cleared to land at Los Angeles airport. Now at this point the pilots apparently asked for a lower altitude they wanted to get down more quickly they wanted to go to about 101000 feet. As they struggled to control the airplane. Initially they were told to descend to 171000. Feet. And that is apparently the last transmission with the pilots of this MD eighty. That was less than seven minutes after they first radioed trouble to controllers. Now we are told there was apparently another plane in the air at the time. That was listing to this conversation and actually could see the Alaska Airlines jet. Our sources say this plane saw the jet plunged out of the sky. Go inverted and then hit the water.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.