Eastern Airlines Mystery Continues: 'We Were Close'

The NTSB has examined debris recovered by two Boston adventurers.

ByABC News
February 7, 2017, 4:51 PM

— -- “We were close.”

That’s how Dan Futrell and Isaac Stoner — the 30-something Bostonians who scaled Bolivia’s Mount Illimani to search for the black box of an Eastern Airlines Boeing 727 downed in 1985 — reacted to the National Transportation Safety Board’s announcement that the debris they recovered hasn’t solved the mystery of the crash.

The flight, EA980, slammed into Illimani on Jan. 1, 1985, en route from Asuncion, Paraguay, to Miami. The bodies of the 29 passengers and crew on board, including eight Americans, were lost in the snow at 19,600 feet.

Last June, after a four-day trek to terrain investigators had deemed inaccessible, Futrell and Stoner discovered human remains and a few fragments of debris they hoped constituted the plane’s black box: several bright orange pieces of metal, a bundle of wires labeled “CKPT VO RCDR” and a damaged spool of magnetic tape. After a protracted struggle with Bolivian authorities, Futrell and Stoner turned over the recovered debris to the U.S. NTSB last month.

Today the agency confirmed the adventurers’ suspicions. The mangled metal fragments once housed the jet’s cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder.

But the magnetic tape, which they suspected might contain data from the black box, instead held an episode of Bill Cosby’s adventure series “I Spy,” dubbed in Spanish, the NTSB said.

“Potentially, the boxes are very close to where we located those metal pieces,” Futrell told ABC. “We know we found pieces that were in direct contact” with the recorders, he said.

As for the data, “It’s still on the mountain!” Futrell exclaimed.

The adventuresome duo has considered venturing back to Bolivia to continue the search. But given the expense, they said they would rather see investigators launch a more formal expedition — aided, of course, by the GPS coordinates Futrell and Stoner noted when they found the debris.

“Originally, we embarked on this trip because the black box was listed as inaccessible. I do feel confident we’ve dispelled that,” Futrell said. “The terrain is absolutely not inaccessible.”

The men are disappointed that they still don’t know what happened to the plane, Futrell acknowledged.

But their discovery did provide solace to at least one family member who lost a loved one that day.

Stacy Greer, whose father, Mark Bird, was the aircraft engineer, now wears around her neck a piece of debris the men sent to her.

The black box “doesn’t really matter to me,” she told ABC News. “They’ve proven to me that there are good people out there, there are people that still care … That means so much.”

ABC News’ Whitney Lloyd and David Kerley contributed to this report.