DENVER - Investigators climbed inside the cracked, charred wreckage of a Continental Airlines jet yesterday, searching for clues about why the plane had veered off a runway and slid nearly half a mile into a ravine.

The twin-engine Boeing 737-500 still sat in the snow-covered ravine where it came to rest after its aborted takeoff Saturday at Denver International Airport. Behind it, a 2,500-foot-long scar through the grass and snow marked the plane's path.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators conducted preliminary reviews of the cockpit voice recorder and the flight- data recorder on Sunday, agency spokesman Peter Knudson said.

No information has been released, but Knudson said "we do have good data" from the recorders. The NTSB said nothing had been ruled out as a potential cause.

The pilot and the first officer had clean safety records with the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said. He wouldn't identify them.

FAA records show that the plane, built in 1994, had to make an emergency landing in Denver in 1995, when one of its two engines failed, but the aircraft touched down safely and no injuries were reported. The engine was replaced.

The latest accident forced the 115 passengers and crew aboard Flight 1404 to flee through emergency exits as the plane burned. The jet had shed its left engine and both main landing gears. The entire right side of the jet was burned, and melted plastic from overhead compartments dripped onto the seats.

Of the 38 people injured, five remained in Denver hospitals yesterday, including the captain, Continental said. Hospital officials said one was in serious condition, one in fair condition and three in good condition.

"It didn't really sound like an explosion. It was more like a big thud," said Maria Trejos, 30, who was sitting on the right side of the plane with her husband, who had their 1-year-old son on his lap.

She said yesterday that she thought the plane was about to take off when it veered off the left side of the runway. She said that she felt a bump and saw a fireball through the window, and that it felt briefly as if they were airborne.

Trejos then smelled fuel and thought, "I hope the plane doesn't explode."

At first, the cabin was eerily quiet, with no one screaming, she said, but then it quickly got hot from the fire, and people began to panic when they saw smoke and flames.

"I was thinking, 'I don't want to burn. I don't want my baby or my husband to burn,' " said Trejos, who is four months pregnant.

They scrambled onto a wing and slid to the ground. She said that their son has cuts on his legs and that she her husband are bruised and sore, but that all three are otherwise fine.

They were headed to Houston to visit her husband's family but instead went home to Pueblo West, about 100 miles south of Denver, happy to be alive.

"It's going to be the best Christmas ever," she said. *