Police and investigators probing the deadly plane crash in Madrid have questioned the mechanic who cleared the plane for takeoff after tending to a minor mechanical problem, the airline said Saturday.
Spanair said the mechanic dealt with a problem in an air temperature gauge that forced the pilot to abandon a first attempt to take off. About an hour later, when the MD-82 finally did take off, it crashed near the end of the runway, burning and largely disintegrating. A total of 153 of the 172 people aboard were killed.
The newspaper El Pais quoted unnamed sources close to the investigation as saying that during two sessions of testimony Friday — first with police and then with crash investigators — the mechanic insisted that the gauge malfunction was a minor glitch which had nothing to do with Wednesday's crash.
A Spanair official told The Associated Press on Saturday it had no details of the man's testimony, but reiterated that the mechanical problem did not cause the crash. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing company rules.
Aviation experts have told The AP this problem probably did not cause the crash.
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All 19 survivors of the crash remained hospitalized Saturday, two of them in critical condition. The worst off was a 31-year-old woman with burns to 72 percent of her body. Her husband died in the crash but her six-year-old son survived.
Antonio Burgueno, who runs the metropolitan Madrid hospital system, said Saturday that survivors are torn between being grateful to be alive and sad for those who died.
"Some of them know ... how huge this tragedy is," Burgueno told a news conference. "They do not know why they got to live, and at the same time they share the pain of those who were not so lucky."
Only 50 bodies have been identified so far. Many were burned beyond recognition and forensic teams have been using DNA techniques for identification.
"This is very hard and sad for the relatives," Antonio Alonso, head of Genetics at Institute of Toxicology and Forensic Science of Madrid, told the Associated Press. "Of course it is also hard for us, but we are doing it as fast as we can and the best that we can."
He said most of the remaining bodies will be identified in the next few days.
Spanair said the mechanic dealt with the gauge problem by essentially turning the device off, and said this was an accepted procedure because the gauge was not an absolutely essential piece of equipment.
But the head of Spanish civil aviation, Manuel Bautista, told the AP in an interview Friday that the gauge should be closely examined to see if it did contribute to the accident.
Bautista said a combination of failures likely caused the disaster.
"A problem with a temperature sensor may not matter at all, or it can be very important, depending on what other circumstances accompany it," Bautista said. "We will have to see what other issues were present."
Relatives of people who died in the crash met Friday night with Spanair representatives and complained angrily that the company was not providing any information on what might have caused the crash.
Some said their loved ones had sent them cell phone text messages saying that had tried to get off the plane after the mechanical problem emerged, but were not allowed to. Spanair declined to comment on the issue Saturday.