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http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124864732403082173.html JULY 27, 2009 Arson Investigators Probe Airliner Fire By ANDY PASZTOR <andy.pasztor@xxxxxxx> Federal arson investigators have been called in to help determine the source of a fire inside the cabin of an American Airlines jet last month en route to Zurich from New York, according to U.S. government and industry officials. The Boeing 767 aircraft made an emergency landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia, roughly an hour into the trip, after flight attendants used several fire extinguishers to put out a lavatory blaze, without any injuries. More than six weeks later, air-safety investigators and law-enforcement officials are still trying to determine the cause. It isn't clear whether foul play was involved, and investigators are declining to comment on the specifics. But the conduct of the investigation -- particularly the emphasis on safeguarding evidence -- highlights the sensitivity of the probe and early suspicions about possible wrongdoing. The probe is unusual and has created a stir among air-safety experts, these officials said, because the airline initially asked U.S. law enforcement to get involved when mechanics failed to find the source of the flames. Accident investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives haven't pinpointed the likely ignition source on the June 9 flight. After some tussles, the safety board ended up in control of the investigation. >From the moment the jet was ferried back to a U.S. maintenance base, it wasn't treated as a run-of-the-mill electrical short. Because there were no obvious signs of malfunctions and it was "something we had never seen before," American alerted law-enforcement officials. To safeguard possible evidence, the airline wanted arson investigators with "the expertise to come in and look at it," an airline spokesman said Friday. American mechanics didn't find any indications of problems with circuit breakers or other electrical or mechanical parts, according to the airline and the Federal Aviation Administration. As a result, American, a unit of AMR Corp., contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which then handed over that part of the probe to arson investigators from the ATF. Under U.S. law, the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies have authority to take over airline accident or incident investigations only if the Justice Department determines there is probable cause a crime has been committed. The twin-engine Boeing 767 remained grounded for several weeks while investigators inspected the damage, shipped off some parts for lab analysis and then mechanics replaced large portions of the lavatory. The water heater, for example, "didn't show any obvious signs of failure" when mechanics checked it and was sent to the manufacturer for further analysis, an FAA spokesman said last week. American said those findings are pending. ATF officials declined to comment. A spokesman for the safety board said, "We aren't prepared at this time to discuss a probable cause...but hope to have something to say later this summer." <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> If you wish to unsubscribe from the AIRLINE List, please send an E-mail to: "listserv@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx". Within the body of the text, only write the following:"SIGNOFF AIRLINE".
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