Swissair Jet: A Boeing MD-11

The Swissair jetliner that crashed Wednesday evening off Nova Scotia was a Boeing McDonnell Douglas MD-11, a variation of the DC-10 style airplanes which have had some problems in the past, CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips reports from Geneva.

The plane had been serviced more than a month ago, and had its last major overhaul in 1997.

Boeing officials said that there was "nothing extraordinary" about the jet. The plane was delivered new to Swissair in August 1991. It had logged only 3,500 miles and 6,400 cycles - meaning landings and takeoffs.

Click here for our full coverage
One of the first things the investigators want to look for are the two "black boxes" (the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder), reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr.

The two boxes, presuming they are in good shape, will give the investigators the first clues as to what probably went wrong on the plane.

The MD-11 is the world's only modern wide-cabin airliner powered by three engines.

The 200-foot aircraft can carry 285 people in standard configuration, or up to 410 people when all the seating is economy class. The Swissair plane had a standard seating arrangement, according to the flight schedule. Officials reported Thursday that the plane had been carrying 229 people, including 14 crew members.

Former Inspector General of the Department of Transportation Mary Schiavo says Swissair has an "excellent" track record.

"They have not had a fatal crash since 1979 and they have among the best records in the industry. Very youthful fleet. The average age of the planes is five years old," Schiavo says.

The plane that crashed was only seven years old and was ready to be retired this year.

"It rolled off the assembly line the end of December 1990. So even the oldest planes are by American standards a youthful fleet," Schiavo says.

"The MD-11 (as opposed to its older sister, the DC-10) has an excellent record. It has only had one crash and on that, two were killed," Schiavo says.

Schiavo noted that the plane has more safety features than the DC-10, plus seats specially designed to help passengers survive an impact.

Boeing took over production of the MD-11 when it purchased St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas in 1997. Earlier this year, Boeing announced that it planned to stop making the airliner in 2000.

The plane is built in Long Beach, Calif.

The airliner has a range of approximately 7,630 miles, while carrying 285 passengers and their baggage. The extended-range version can fly approximately 8,225 miles.

The design's first fliht was on Jan. 10, 1990.

A Federal Express cargo MD-11 crashed while landing early on the morning of July 31, 1997, at Newark International Airport in New Jersey. The five people aboard escaped safely before the plane burned.