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Fri, Mar 19, 2004

Aviation Crash Technology Holds Political Weight

Black Box Not Thought To Be From Rwanda   

Initial tests indicate that the flight recorder recently discovered at the United Nations is not linked to a 1994 plane crash that triggered Rwanda's genocide, a U.N. spokesman said Wednesday. In a major embarrassment for the world organization, the recorder was discovered a week ago in a filing cabinet in the U.N.'s Air Safety Unit where it apparently languished for a decade after its arrival by diplomatic pouch from the U.N. Mission in Rwanda.

On Tuesday, U.N. officials took the "black box" to the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington where it was opened in the presence of experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency based in Montreal, said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard.

After last week's discovery, there was speculation the recorder might have been from the plane shot down while carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart from Burundi from a meeting in Tanzania. The genocide in Rwanda began as news of Habyarimana's death spread, and by the time it ended more than 500,000 people had been killed.

According to Eckhard, the aviation experts on Tuesday found that the "black box" — which was labeled a cockpit voice recorder — contained tapes lasting about 30 minutes that recorded some conversation in French.

"Nothing heard so far on the tape links the CVR (cockpit voice recorder) to the aircraft crash on April 6, 1994 in Rwanda," he said.

"Additional expert attention, as is normally the case, will be required to determine the exact contents of the tape and that process will take a bit more time," Eckhard said. "Only when we have this additional review can we draw any definite conclusions about the recorder."

The cockpit voice recorder — which is actually orange with two diagonal cream-colored stripes — was displayed in the U.N. spokesman's office on Wednesday afternoon. It had an Air France sticker on the front, though Eckhard said that didn't necessarily mean it came from an Air France plane.

The rectangular-shaped recorder was made by Fairchild Industrial Products of Comack, N.Y., and bore the serial number 6285. It arrived at U.N. headquarters with a sticker saying UNAMIR — the initials of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Rwanda — and the date 6/4/94. Eckhard asked for help in identifying it.

Denis Beissel, the retired U.N. official who received the recorder, told The Associated Press on Friday that he tried to get the black box analyzed but no one responded and it was "put on a shelf."

Even if the black box was from the downed plane, it is unlikely that the information inside would have changed the course of events. No one disputes that Habyarimana's plane was intentionally shot down, and there is little the flight data recorder could reveal about who was responsible.

FMI: www.un.org

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