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Questions Swirl In Crash's Wake

Cast members pose with the awards for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series for their work in "Desperate Housewives," at the 12th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards Jan. 29, 2006, in Los Angeles.
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It seems likely that the crash of Flight 111 was a high-impact accident, perhaps suggesting that the plane came down from a much higher altitude than first thought, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr.

"We're told by our sources that the air traffic control people lost track of the plane on radar at about 9:18 eastern time last night. And there are conflicting reports exactly what the altitude of the plane might have been when last track on radar."

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Investigators were still unsure what caused the crash, which killed all 229 people on board. The MD-11 was less than an hour out of Kennedy airport, cruising at 70,000 feet, when the pilot radioed there was smoke in the cockpit. It was a low-level report. They did not declare a mayday.

On Thursday, 137 Americans were reported to be on the flight, but a re-examination of the passenger list has found there were 132 Americans, Philippe Bruggisser, the head of the airline's parent company SAir Group, said Friday.

Grief-stricken families from Europe and the United States headed to Nova Scotia's rocky coast Friday to confront the task of identifying remains retrieved from the ocean waters where Swissair Flight 111 crashed into fragments. In a secluded area at Peggy's Cove, barricaded from journalists, mourners will be able to look out over the ocean waters and watch boats and aircraft pursue the search.

Swissair will pay $20,000 in immediate financial aid to families who request it.

Officials estimated Thursday night that 60 bodies had been recovered and taken to a morgue at a military base outside Halifax.

Examination of the first few bodies began Thursday. Officials said none appeared to be burned, indicating that there was no explosion or large fire.

"It's likely to be a bad week here," said Ray Boutilier, 72, a lifelong seaman. "You never know what you're going to bring up in your nets."

Divers were preparing to search the sea floor for the plane's flight recorders, which officials hope will shed light on the cause of the crash.

Details are emerging about the array of distinguished professionals who were among the 229 people killed in Wednesday night's disaster. Brilliant doctors, high-powered executives, and risk-taking relief workers were among the dead. Seven of the victims were affiliated with the United Nations.

The MD-11 dropped off radar screens about 90 minutes after leaving New York's Kennedy International Airport late Wednesday on its way to Geneva. After a normal takeoff, the crew reported problems on board and decided to turn back to Boston. They were told the Halifax irport was closer, but never made it.

Meanwhile, U.S. investigators helping in the search for clues to the Swissair crash in Canada bring with them sad experience with the potential implications of smoke in flight. Canadian authorities are in charge of the inquiry, but on hand to assist them is a team from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Leading that team is Greg Feith, who was in charge of the investigation into the May 1996 ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades that killed 110 people. The McDonnell Douglas DC-9 plunged in flames.

The ValuJet crew was desperately trying to return to Miami when it went down in the swamp. The Swissair crew first thought of heading for Boston, but things deteriorated rapidly, the airline said, so they tried unsuccessfully for the smaller, but closer, airport at Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Nervous about possible retaliation against U.S. targets after missile strikes on suspected terrorist facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan, the Clinton administration was quick to discount the likelihood of such a cause for the crash. Attorney General Janet Reno said "all initial information indicates that it was an accident."

FBI Director Louis Freeh was more noncommittal, telling a Senate Judiciary subcommittee that his agency is examining passenger manifests from the plane. Canadian and U.S. officials said there were no indications that the crash resulted from sabotage or a terrorist act, but investigators were not ruling anything out. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police called in explosives experts to examine debris for signs of a possible bomb blast.

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