Picasso Painting Lost In Crash

A Picasso painting, diamonds and possibly millions of dollars in currency and gold are resting on the ocean floor off Nova Scotia in the twisted wreckage of Swissair Flight 111.

The USS Grapple, a Navy salvage ship capable of winching 300-ton pieces to the surface, was preparing Monday to begin lifting large chunks of the jetliner and its contents to the surface. The operation also could help investigators determine why the plane crashed.

Flight 111, on a McDonnell Douglas MD-11, plowed into the sea off Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, on Sept. 2, killing all 229 people on board. It was trying to reach Halifax to make an emergency landing after taking off from New York en route to Geneva.

The Grapple, which recovered pieces of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island in 1996, was moored over the crash site Monday morning.

Lt. John Oliveira, spokesman for the Grapple, said the lift would begin as soon as Canadian authorities give approval, after bodies and body parts are recovered.

The primary targets are five sections of fuselage sitting in about 190 feet of water six miles from shore.

"Obviously, our goal is to bring it up as intact as possible," Oliveira said.

In Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Swissair official Klaus Knappik said a Picasso painting worth an estimated $1.5 million, The Painter, was aboard the flight and had been destroyed.

Swissair would not disclose the identities of the sender and receiver of the painting, but said it was in a normal freight container.

Knappik also said nearly 110 pounds of cash and 4 1/2 pounds of diamonds were aboard the flight. He did not give the worth of the diamonds and the money. The money was being sent from a U.S. bank to another U.S. bank in Switzerland.

Wayne Noonan, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said the bills had been in a safe in the jet's cargo hold.

Swissair also said the plane was carrying a locked box containing possibly millions of dollars in currency and gold. The airline, which frequently transports money in and out of Geneva, would not give a dollar figure or say to whom it belonged or where it was going.

Swissair said another artwork was also on the plane, but the identification of the painting was unknown.

None of the goods have been recovered.

The Grapple arrived last week and has been mapping and videotaping the wreckage.

Canadian divers continued the grim task of recovering victims Sunday, walking the sea floor in weighted boots, connected to the surface by air hoses.

Investigators, meanwhile, examined the cockpit voice recorder at a federal Transportation Safety Board lab in Ottawa.
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