The mysteries of downed airplanes have always captivated us. Long before there was EgyptAir Flight 804 or Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, there was Flight 990 in 1999 and Flight 712 in 1968. A lesser known example is Eastern Airlines Flight 980, which crashed in the Andes for unknown reasons and killed all 29 people onboard on January 1, 1985. A subsequent expedition to the crash site failed to turn up the black box due to the wreckage being strewn across a vast area covered in over ten feet of snow and ice.
That may have been the end of Flight 980’s story if it weren’t for the recent work of Dan Futrell and Isaac Stoner, two intrepid men from Boston — with virtually no experience on mountains — who decided to return to the crash site of Bolivia’s Mount Illimani in search of the black box. After months of preparation and weeks travelling (much of which is documented on their blog), they think they’ve found it … or what’s left of it, at least.
The search for the black box was difficult given factors like “the Boeing 727 flying into the mountain at 500 mph, the metal fell 4000 feet down from the impact site to the base of Illimani, and the natural grinding of ice and boulders that make up this living mountain.” But at the end of day three on the slopes of Illimani, they located what they were looking for.
After we’d given up for the evening, Isaac did something he’d done hundreds of times over the previous three days, turning over pieces of metal to check their color. Only this piece he turned over was orange, just like the previous five pieces, and it had cables sticking out of it. On a plastic wrapping around the cables was the writing “CKPT VO RCDR”.
The men managed to find several other pieces of scrap metal that matched the markings found on the black box marked CKPT VO RCDR (or Cockpit Voice Recorder), as well as a roll of magnetic tape which may have come from inside the black box. After 30 years exposed to the elements, there’s only a small chance the tape will still be readable. But if anything can be pulled off it, it could solve the mystery of why Flight 980 veered so far off course and crashed into the mountains.