NTSB Retrieves Long-Lost Eastern Air Lines Flight 980 Black Box

Mountain climbers who came across the flight data recorder turned it over to the NTSB Wednesday, with permission from Bolivian officials.

Illimani 727 Crash
Mount Illimani, where an Eastern Air Lines Boeing 727 crashed more than two decades ago.Wikimedia Commons/Hernan Payrumani

More than three decades after Eastern Air Lines Flight 980 impacted Mount Illimani in Bolivia, killing all 29 passengers on board, its flight data recorder has been found and turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board for investigation.

NTSB investigator Bill English met mountain climbers Dan Futrell and Isaac Stoner at Norwood Memorial Airport (KOWD) in Massachusetts on Wednesday to collect the black box from Eastern Air Lines Flight 980, a Boeing 727. The travelers came across the data recorder last year while climbing Mount Illimani and returned to Boston with the device.

The 727 impacted Mount Illimani on January 1, 1985, while on approach to La Paz, Bolivia. The remote crash site was inaccessible to investigators, who abandoned attempts to recover the flight data recorder.

“I led the expedition in 1985 to retrieve the CVR and FDR,” aircraft accident investigator Greg Feith posted on his Facebook page. “Unfortunately, there was 30-plus feet of snow covering the wreckage, which made the job of finding either box impossible for the time we had on the mountain. Over the past 30 years, the wreckage has been migrating down the mountain with the melting snow and ice.”

Once the device was found, the United States had to gain permission from Bolivia to lead an investigation. The NTSB expects to report its findings to Bolivian authorities in the next few weeks.