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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Crash Data Suggests Explosion in Cargo Hold

MIAMI -- Some passengers on ValuJet Flight 592 were likely thrown violently around the cabin when the plane suddenly lost power and plunged to earth after what may have been an explosion in the cargo hold, according to data being analyzed Wednesday.

Robert Francis, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, said the flight data recorder showed that the jet with 109 aboard was climbing normally after takeoff from Miami when the problems began.

"There could have been an explosion," Francis told reporters Tuesday evening.

Of particular interest to investigators, he said, were some 50 to 60 spare airline oxygen generators being transported in the cargo hold back to ValuJet's headquarters in Atlanta for refurbishing. Oxygen is highly flammable.

The oxygen generators are used for passengers' oxygen masks in emergencies. Each is the size of a fire extinguisher.

About 3 1/2 minutes before the Saturday crash the right engine lost 45 percent of its power and the DC-9 began to tumble out of control, according to preliminary data.

"The altitude dropped 248 meters," Francis said. "This lasted between three and four seconds." After the left engine lost power, the plane slammed nose-first into the spongy mud of the Everglades.

An airplane typically descends at a rate of about 122 meters per minute, according to experienced commercial pilots. A fall of twice that in less than four seconds would have tossed those on board against the aircraft's ceiling if they were not strapped into their seats.

Francis emphasized that the flight data collected so far was preliminary and would be analyzed further by NTSB engineers and scientists. He said it was also significant that the final 50 seconds of the flight data was missing.

Details about the flight's final minutes were of little comfort to the families of the victims, who have waited helplessly since the jet crashed Saturday afternoon.

Scores of grieving families were to visit the crash site for the first time Wednesday for a memorial service. The relatives will be escorted by bus to the alligator-infested swamp to pray, meditate and place flowers at the site.

So far dozens of small body parts have been found among the wreckage but medical experts said it could take weeks to identify the remains.

Dental records, heart pacemakers and small tattoos or birthmarks may be the only way that some of the victims can be identified, they said.