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The captain and first officer of Delta Air Lines...

By HARIHAR KRISHNAN

IRVING, Texas -- The captain and first officer of Delta Air Lines Flight 1141 told federal investigators Tuesday that they are certain the flaps of the Boeing 727 were extended for takeoff before the Aug. 31 crash that killed 14 people.

Capt. Larry L. Davis and First Officer Carey W. Kirkland Jr. gave their testimony on the opening day of a four-day National Transportation Safety Board hearing into the cause of the crash at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

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Jim Burnett, a member of the NTSB and head of the panel investigating this crash, called the crash 'one of the more baffling ... in recent years,' and he noted that the jetliner's 'black box' flight data recorder was of an antiquated design.

But most of the attention focused on the flaps of the aircraft at the time of takeoff. Questions have arisen over whether they were deployed properly and why they were in a retracted position after the crash.

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Davis said the first officer is responsible for lowering the wing flaps to the proper position for takeoff. Davis said he could not recall seeing Kirkland perform that procedure, but the first officer testified later in the day he was certain he did.

'I am convinced I lowered the flap handle (to lower the flaps),' he said in response to a question, adding that he could remember the clicking sound of the handle going into the correct 15-degree angle.

During followup questioning of Davis, a Delta representative asked the captain, 'Can you be reasonably sure that the flaps were extended?'

'Yes,' Davis responded.

A representative of the Air Line Pilots Association on Monday complained that the NTSB had not asking Davis that question earlier, arguing that investigators had made their minds up that pilot error caused the crash.

'Everything was normal for liftoff,' Davis said of the plane's takeoff roll. 'At that point the stick shaker (stall warning) went off. The engine started to compressor stall. I added full power and the airplane crashed.'

Davis also said during his 2 hours of testimony that the crash 'seemed like a car going 50 mph and hitting a mud puddle.'

Davis acknowledged that a flight attendant was in the cockpit as the plane waited to take off in violation of flight procedures.

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As the hering began, Burnett, in charge of the NTSB investigation, said, 'The accident is one of the more baffling and potentially more important accidents the board has investigated in recent years.'

'It is perplexing because of factual inconsistencies found thus far and the importance in the critical need to resolve such very basic differences in the name of safety.' Burnett said. 'Adding to our difficulties is the fact that flight 1141 had an antiquated flight data recorder, one found on most planes certified before Sept. 30, 1969.'

The so-called 'foil recorder' has only a small number of built-in sensors to record aircraft performance. More advanced units will be required in airplanes by next May.

The hearings opened a day after Capt. James H. Gray, a Delta pilot, said at a pilots' union news conference that the NTSB's list of witnesses and exhibits indicated that 'there is automatic assumption of pilot error. Many questions have not been satisfactorily answered.'

The NTSB has investigated the crash of the Boeing 727 for nearly three months but has not revealed the cause of the accident.

There has been speculation that problems with the flaps, which provide the extra lift a plane needs during takeoff and are operated hydraulically by the crew, caused the crash and fire.

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Gray said the cockpit's voice recorder showed the crew 'meticulously' completed its preflight checklist before takeoff but the plane's inboard wing flaps did not extend. Only the outboard flaps had extended.

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