LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Federal investigators expect to know by Friday whether they can retrieve any usable data from the soot-covered flight data recorders recovered from the wreckage of a UPS jet near the Birmingham, Ala., airport Thursday.
Investigators were still a long way from establishing a cause for the Wednesday morning crash that killed two crew members and left a debris field hundreds of yards long.
But their preliminary investigations show no indication of engine failure or fire in the engines before the crash, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said in a briefing. There was dirt and tree debris in the engines, possibly from when the Airbus A300-600 clipped trees on its way down and slammed into the ground at the bottom of a hill.
Sumwalt said the plane was attempting to land on a shorter runway; a longer runway was closed for maintenance on its lights. But he did not say whether the runway length could have been a factor in the crash.
The pilots were identified by UPS as Capt. Cerea Beal, 58, of Matthews, N.C., and First Officer Shanda Carney Fanning, 37, of Lynchburg, Tenn.
The NTSB said there was no distress call from the jet.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board found the flight recorders in the tail section of the cargo plane after hours of searching Thursday morning. The smoldering wreckage had prevented investigators from looking immediately after the crash.
The boxes were found buried in the wreckage under hardened plastic, metal and cargo, Sumwalt said.
"We're cautiously optimistic we'll be able to get good data from those recorders" by Friday morning, Sumwalt said at an afternoon briefing in Birmingham.
The jet was en route from the main UPS hub in Louisville when it crashed about a half-mile short of the runway at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport at about 6 a.m. EDT Wednesday.
Investigators were interviewing air traffic controllers Thursday evening, Sumwalt said. Other NTSB officials in Louisville were scheduled Friday to begin poring over records at the Louisville offices of UPS, which Sumwalt said was cooperating with the investigation.
Radar data with speed, altitude and other data has also been obtained, he said.
"I want to emphasize we are just in the very beginning stages of the investigation," he said.
Sumwalt said the NTSB has brought in other agencies to help, including the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Teamsters, the Independent Pilots Association, the European Transportation Safety Council, Airbus, the French maker of the airplane, and the French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety, which Sumwalt called the French version of the NTSB.
Family members and friends on Wednesday said Fanning had flown since she was a teen. Beal was certified as an airline transport pilot, flight instructor and flight engineer, according to the FAA.
IPA Family Assistance is working with both of the families, union spokesman Brian Gaudet said.
Officials have not said who was at the controls during the landing.
Technicians were working through the night to saw open the black boxes, which are made to withstand intense heat and impact, he said.
"As you can imagine, these boxes are not made to be opened up," he said.
Mark Boxley and Mark Vanderhoff, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal