Replies But No Answers from Flight 1420 Copilot

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The copilot has surpisingly little to tell. From his hospital bed, where he was recovering from a broken leg, First Officer Michael Origel told National Transportation Safety Board investigators that he believed Capt. Richard Buschmann set the wing spoilers that should have helped Flight 1420 slow down to landing speed; that he believed the plane hydroplaned on that wet Little Rock runway. But the flight recorder says the spoilers never popped up -- indicating either a mechanical malfunction or that Origel is covering for his dead colleague -- and investigators say the runway was properly grooved and that the jetliner had a firm grip on the pavement.

Origel also assured investigators that landing in Little Rock that night wasn't some tragic act of machismo. Despite the rain, hail and wind gusting to 75 mph, Origel said that the plane approached the airport through a break in the clouds -- and that both pilots could see the runway through the entire approach. Thus stymied, the NTSB has turned its gaze to Flight 1420's own hulking corpse. On Monday, investigators began to remove the twisted and charred fuselage of the American Airlines jet to get to computers that controlled the aircraft's mechanical systems -- computers that could help the NTSB team learn whether something went wrong with the plane's innards that the black box didn't reveal. "Everything is a possible cause," said lead investigator Greg Feith. "What we need to do is... start narrowing the scope." From where will the answers come -- man or machine? Probably both. Quite possibly neither.