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Actions of U.S. pilot are probed

Officials ask if Jamaica crash was preventable.

KINGSTON, Jamaica - Jamaican and U.S. authorities started a probe yesterday examining whether the pilot of American Airlines Flight 331 could have averted an accident that cracked open the plane and sent dozens to the hospital.

One alternative could have been to abort the landing and circle around for another try, said Oscar Derby, director general of Jamaica's Civil Aviation Authority.

"We would want to look at why that option was not selected," he said, adding he was not sure it would have been possible. "Runway excursions are responsible for many of the fatalities in modern aviation."

The Boeing 737-800, arriving from Miami, skidded off the runway of Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport in heavy rain late Tuesday, lurching as it came to a stop at the edge of the Caribbean Sea. Its fuselage broke open, its left main landing gear collapsed, and its nose crushed.

All 154 people aboard survived, with 92 taken to hospitals, but no injuries were considered life-threatening.

Investigation of the wreckage is likely to wrap up Sunday, Derby said. Officials were interviewing the crew and passengers and looking at flight controls and weather conditions.

Other planes landed safely and without difficulty that night, Derby said, but conditions varied from landing to landing. "The weather was changing by the hour," he said.

Airport operations director Stanley Smith said the plane had to touch down without the aid of approach lights that have been darkened all month because of a malfunction, though he said "all the runway and threshold lights, the primary system, are working fine," Bloomberg News reported.

Investigators will study whether the lighting issue played a role in the accident.

The airport reopened yesterday to large planes that had been diverted to Montego Bay, according to customer-service spokesman Chad Anthony Smart.

Six investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board were in Kingston to assist a probe led by Jamaica's government, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said.

One of the jet's two flight data recorders was retrieved and taken to the NTSB lab in Washington. The second will arrive sometime after the holidays, Holloway said. He could not estimate how long it would take to analyze them.