SCITUATE, R.I. -- Federal investigators are confident they can determine the cause of the fatal fire aboard a Pilgrim Airlines commuter plane even though the blaze virtually destroyed the craft after it crash-landed.
One passenger died in the blaze Sunday, the pilot and co-pilot were critically burned and nine other passengers were injured.
'It's always difficult to determine the origin of a fire, particularly when it destroys the evidence,' James Burnett, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told a news conference Monday.
It was only the second case of a cabin fire leading to a crash in the NTSB's 15-year history, he said.
Burnett said the task would be 'particularly difficult' in the case Pilgrim's Flight 458 because the fuselage burst into flames and burned to the water line moments after it skidded to a halt on the huge ice-covered Scituate Reservoir Sunday.
In addition, no flight recorders were required on the small plane, Burnett said.
But NTSB spokesman Brad Dunbar said investigators were confident they would be able to pinpoint the cause by interviewing the passengers and crew and listening to conversations with the plane recorded by the Federal Aviation Administration's radar center in Quonset Point, R.I., shortly before it went down.
'We should get the particulars if we can interview the crew,' he said. 'Our batting average is about 95 percent' on determining crash causes.
Pilot Thomas Prinster, 36, and co-pilot Lyle Hoog, 27, remained in critical condition today at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.
Eight of the passengers also remained hospitalized, all in satisfactory condition.
The plane, carrying 10 passengers, was en route from New York to Boston and had stopped in Groton, Conn., minutes before the fire began in the cockpit's instrument panel.
Burnett, speaking to reporters in Providence, said fire extinguishers aboard the plane were not used because they were hidden from view by blinding smoke from the blaze.
'Some (passengers) tried to fight the flames,' he said, but added, 'No extinguishers were used because they couldn't see into the cockpit.'
Prinster, of North Kingstown, R.I., and Hoog, of Groton, Conn., were too busy trying to stamp out the fire and land the plane to reach for the extinguishers, he indicated.
A spokesman for the New London, Conn.-based carrier declined to comment on the report.