Black Box May Hold Clues to Fiery Crash

The black box recovered from the cockpit of the airplane that rolled off a runway and burst into flames Saturday in Denver is thought to contain information that will help the investigation, a National Transportation Safety Board member said today.

"We understand that there is good data on those recorders," said NTSB member Robert Sumwalt this afternoon in Denver. He said that a team of investigators will soon begin what's often a three-day process of deciphering the cockpit voice recorder.

As federal investigators continue to examine what caused the plane to veer off the runway and catch fire, it now appears that crosswinds may have been a factor in the accident that injured 38 people.


The Continental Airlines flight was fighting crosswinds estimated at 31 miles an hour as it sped down the runway.

Sources said pilots used the tail rudder to counteract the wind and keep the plane straight. Investigators will want to know if those controls relaxed, causing the plane to veer left. It wasn't until then, sources said, that pilots tried to abort the takeoff.

The plane veered left, careering into a 40-foot ravine where the right side caught fire and the fuselage partially buckled. One engine and most of the landing gear were completely sheared off.

Still, ABC News consultant John Nance said crosswinds couldn't be the only reason for the crash.

VIDEO: John Nance on GMA.

"Crosswinds alone cannot come anywhere close to explaining this accident," he said. "We have plenty of capability of keeping these planes on a dry runway."

Today various investigative teams spent the day collecting information -- whether on site inside the wrecked plane, speaking with passengers or reviewing maintenance records -- looking for any sign of engine problems or other plane malfunctions. There is no indication at this point of engine trouble.

Of particular interest is the "perishable evidence," such as skidmarks in the snow, that investigators are eager to evaluate before it's too late.

Investigative teams plan to come together later tonight to report on their progress.

Sumwalt also said the captain of the plane, who was injured in the crash, has not yet been interviewed by the NTSB. Continental confirmed today that the plane's captain remains in the hospital.

"If they're not physically or mentally able to be interviewed, then we can't do that," Sumwalt said.

The weekend crash was the third major accident in three years in which all passengers survived.

"That tells us a lot. It tells us we are doing a lot better in getting people off of aircraft and designing aircraft," said Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation. "When you have those types of results, you can't say it is luck."

According to a study by the Flight Safety Foundation, accidents in which planes run off the runway make up more than a third of all accidents worldwide.

Just after 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Continental Airlines flight 1404 started on its journey from Denver to Houston.

When the plane finally slid to a stop, passengers and crew members escaped through emergency chutes. The 110 passengers and five crew members escaped from the burning plane, though 38 sustained injuries and five remain in the hospital.

"There was significant fire damage inside the cabin, with the [overhead] luggage compartments being described as melted and dropping down onto the seats," said Denver Fire Department Airport Division Chief Patrick Hynes.

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