Experts were probing Thursday the crash of a Gulf Air Airbus A320 that went down into the sea off Bahrain, killing all 143 people on board, as grief-stricken relatives of the dead identified the bodies.
Bahrain, which has proclaimed three days of mourning, sprang to the defense of the airline and the airport, while a Gulf Air official in Cairo said there was nothing wrong with the plane when it took off on its final flight.
Bahrain's civil aviation department also dismissed as "pure speculation" reports that one of the two engines of the Airbus was on fire before the crash.
"The air traffic control recordings confirm the crew made no distress call," a statement said.
Sheikh Hisham ben Abdelaziz al Khalifa, the board director of Bahrain Internation4al Airport, said the airline's pilots were well trained and qualified, and it was the first time ever the airport had experienced "such a tragic accident."
Searchers overnight recovered the bodies of all 135 passengers and eight crew from Flight GF072 from Cairo to Bahrain, followed by the airplane's "black box" flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.
"The two boxes have been found," Gulf Air vice president Ali Ahmadi said. "Over time, I am sure they will expose the conversation between the air traffic control and the cockpit.
"It is too early to ascertain what caused the crash," Ahmadi said. "The investigation is ongoing and it will be some time until the results are published."
On Thursday, divers were continuing to bring up debris from the aircraft, which disintegrated when it hit the water on its final approach, along with the personal effects of passengers and crew.
A Gulf Air official in Cairo said an engineer's routine maintenance check before the flight found nothing wrong with the plane.
"It arrived OK, the check was OK and it left OK," ground staff employee Hisham Labib told AFP.
A team from Airbus Industrie headed for Manama after the disaster, along with US and French accident investigation experts.
Gulf Air said it would await their arrival before analysing the findings of the "black box" recorders.
Gulf Air spokesman Abdallah Aabdel Karim told local television the analysis should not take long, but more investigations were needed, notably of the debris.
Many bodies have already been identified and "some of them have already been given to their families," said Abdel Rahman bin Rashid al-Khalifa, Bahrain's director of civil aviation.
Family members were not shown the bodies directly but were summoned to a Manama hotel to look at photographs of the dead.
Grief-stricken relatives wailed, beat themselves and screamed hysterically when a Gulf air official called out the names of the dead passengers from the manifest.
"We express our sorrow to all families of the victims on board this aircraft," Ahmadi told a restless gathering of some 160 people in the hotel ballroom. "These are certainly very difficult circumstances."
But his words of condolence were not enough for many of the relatives, as tempers flared at the delay in disclosing the names, and police discreetly upped their presence at the scene.
Gulf Air sent a special plane to bring to Bahrain the families of the 64 Egyptians, including one crew member, killed in the crash – MANAMA (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )