LOS ANGELES -- Rescue workers at Los Angeles International Airport searched yesterday for bodies in the charred wreckage of a USAir jetliner and a small commuter plane as the confirmed death toll from Friday night's fiery collision rose to 18.
Federal investigators, meanwhile, began their effort to determine why a seemingly normal landing by the Boeing 737 jetliner turned into a runway crash with the smaller craft.
"With this accident, we're probably looking for an answer the first part of next year," said Alan Pollock, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. "This is a jigsaw puzzle that we have to piece together."
The investigation was expected to be hampered by the fact that the dead included both pilots of the commuter plane and the captain of the USAir jet, which witnesses said slammed into the smaller plane just as the jetliner was setting down on the runway.
A spokesman for the commuter airline, SkyWest Airlines, said all 10 passengers and both pilots of the twin-engine propeller plane, a Fairchild Metro III, had died. "We've given up hope," said Ron Reber, airline spokesman.
Five bodies were recovered from the charred airliner Friday night, and the pilot, Colin Shaw, 48, of Washington, was pronounced dead at a Los Angeles hospital yesterday morning.
Of the 83 passengers and six crew members aboard USAir Flight 1493, en route from Columbus, Ohio, to Los Angeles, 20 were unaccounted for yesterday afternoon, said a spokesman for the airline, Larry Pickett.
USAir said 27 of those aboard had been hospitalized; 12 had been released by yesterday morning. The injured included the ++ co-pilot, David Kelly, 32, who was in intensive care at a hospital with respiratory burns.
The airline said 41 people walked away from the crash without requiring hospitalization.
The USAir flight originated in Syracuse, N.Y., with stops in Washington and Columbus. The crash occurred at 6:04 p.m. as it touched down on Runway 24-Left. The airliner struck the smaller plane, SkyWest Flight 5569, which was taxiing to take off for Palmdale, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, nearly obliterating the 19-seat craft and veering into a vacant fire station.
Survivors on the USAir jet said there was no warning of trouble. "We had a good landing; we were braking the engine," said Gary Dunham of Los Angeles. He added that there was a "big thud, then a flash of fire" on the left side of the plane.
Survivors described a scene of panic as passengers choking on smoke scrambled through flames.
The row ahead of us just disappeared," Laurel Bravo of Cleveland told Associated Press. "The seats all went flying downward. I thought at first it was a rough landing. But then I really thought I was going to die."
Officials appear to have entirely discounted sabotage as a cause. "As far was we know, everything was operating normally on landing," said Agnes Huff, a spokeswoman for USAir. "There is no evidence of sabotage or terrorism. The USAir plane came in with a normal landing. There was an impact; then they veered off to the left."
Wreckage of the two planes remains strewn from a point just eastof the parallel taxiway to the vacated fire station where the jet came to a halt, 350 yards away.
Twenty-nine rows of seats back from the nose, the jet is broken in two, and a deflated emergency chute hangs out a rear 'D emergency exit.
The entire mass is charred except for the nose and tail. Rescue workers said they found debris from the smaller SkyWest plane inside the break.
"It's a miracle anybody survived this," said Mr. Reber, of SkyWest. "You cannot tell at what point the two planes impacted. Our aircraft is not intact. It is visible under the fuselage of the other plane."