NEW YORK -- With waves subsiding after Long Island's brush with Hurricane Edouard, two Navy ships returned yesterday to the crash site of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 and prepared to send divers down to find out if the storm scattered the wreckage.
Navy officials said they hoped to resume the salvage operation quickly.
Federal criminal and aviation investigators have been hoping to glean new clues from the remaining debris about the cause of the explosion that blew up the Boeing 747 on July 17, killing the 230 people on board.
Some investigators said they still hold out hope, however fleeting, that the remains of a few more of the 19 missing victims would be found.
Less than a third of the wreckage from the shattered jet still sits on the sea floor; most of that lies within a 400-by-400-yard "box" delineated by four heavily anchored buoys, Cmdr. Gordon Hume of the Navy said.
The salvage ship Grapple, which rode out the storm in a Staten Island berth, tied back onto those moorings yesterday afternoon, but no divers were expected to enter the water until today, Hume said.
The first goal of divers and a remote-controlled drone would be to see if the high seas from the passing hurricane stirred any of the carefully pinpointed debris 120 feet down, he said.
Having a precise location charted for each piece of wreckage has been a crucial part of efforts to reconstruct how the giant airplane came apart, crash investigators said.
The position of a piece of wreckage on the bottom hints at when it fell from the disintegrating airplane, investigators said. The earliest pieces to part from the plane are most likely to hold clues to the cause of the blast.
Every scrap of metal on the bottom is considered important as a potential source of new physical evidence, said one investigator involved in the salvage effort. That evidence could provide hints -- such as pocked metal -- supporting or refuting a series of chemical tests showing that explosives were on the airplane.
Hume said that the Oak Hill, a large Navy ship acting as a base for dozens of divers, was also headed back to the crash site yesterday, along with the Pirouette, a chartered 115-foot ship that had been using sonar to detect stray pieces of wreckage in other parts of the crash site that might have been overlooked by divers.
With rough seas coinciding with the Labor Day weekend, many investigators were able to take a break from the endless days of poring over wreckage at a heavily guarded complex of hangars in Calverton, N.Y., that is the center of the inquiry.
For some, the long weekend allowed their first visit home in weeks.
Pub Date: 9/04/96