Special Reports

All 88 lost aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 261

The 88 people aboard an Alaska Airlines flight, including 47 bound for Sea-Tac Airport, died Monday when the plane traveling from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco crashed off the California coast.

Alaska Airlines Flight 261 was northwest of Los Angeles when the pilot reported a problem with the plane's horizontal stabilizer, which helps keep the plane level.

Air traffic controllers in Los Angeles lost radio contact with Flight 261 at 4:36 p.m. The plane disappeared from radar about 20 miles off Point Mugu, near Santa Barbara.

A National Park Service ranger on Anacapa Island, near the crash site, reported seeing a commercial airliner crash into the ocean nose-first.

After San Francisco, the plane was to continue on to Sea-Tac, then Fairbanks, Alaska.

Grim, expressionless faces filled Sea-Tac Monday night. Families arriving to meet their loved ones were whisked to an airport auditorium. Some family members covered their faces as they made their way into the room.

Others wiped away tears. One woman briefly wailed, then fell silent.

Alaska grief counselors and clergy members met with the families and friends of passengers. Alaska employees, too, were grief-stricken at the crash.

Alaska officials worked late into the evening to contact the families of the dead. Aboard were 83 passengers and five crew members, an airline spokesman said.

Late Monday, the airlines released the names of the crew members on the flight:

* Capt. Ted Thompson, 53, who was based in Los Angeles, had 17 years with Alaska Airlines.

* First Officer William Tansky, 57, also based in Los Angeles, 14 years with the airline.

* Flight attendant Allison Shanks, 33, based in Seattle, 11 years with the airline.

* Flight attendant Craig Pulanco, 30, also based in Seattle, three years with the airline.

* Flight attendant Kristin Mills, 26, also based in Seattle, seven months with the airline.

Thirty passengers on the plane were Alaska Airlines or Horizon Air employees and their families and friends, the airline said.

The flight went down about 4:35 p.m. in the Santa Barbara Channel, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Immediately before the crash, the pilot radioed the control tower at Los Angeles International Airport to report a problem with the plane's horizontal stabilizer trim.

The pilot at first decided to push on to San Francisco, said Alaska Airlines spokesman Len Sloper, then asked for and was granted permission to return to Los Angeles to land.

There were reports the plane crash-landed whole but upside down. By the time rescuers arrived, nothing remained but an oil slick, foam, plastic, paper and what appeared to be pieces of the jet.

With light fading, the searchers started finding bodies along with debris. Late in the evening, crews had recovered seven bodies.

Squid fishing boats beamed their searchlights onto the water, spreading a glow across the waves. Help also came from small boats and cargo ships, military planes and oil platforms. The Navy sent ships from San Diego, and a Navy plane flew patterns over the crash site.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will research the crash, which landed in 600-700 feet of cold Pacific Ocean water.

The investigation likely will focus on the plane's stabilizer, though Alaska officials said they never had experienced a problem with the part before.

The stabilizer trim is used to help control the pitch - or the up and down motion - of the airplane. The stabilizer trim moves the plane's vertical tail controls up or down in order to make adjustments for slight changes in the plane's weight distribution, or to adjust for external forces such as turbulence.

Sources said the plane, which was flying at 17,000 feet, lost altitude, then rose again before disappearing off the radar, consistent with a stabilizer trim problem.

The plane, which was delivered to Alaska Airlines in 1992, did not have a record of mechanical problems, said Alaska Airlines spokesman Jack Evans.

Maintenance crews last serviced the plane Sunday in Seattle. Alaska officials said it was a routine inspection.

A review of the plane's maintenance records showed it had undergone two routine inspections. A plane can undergo a series of maintenance checks that range in severity.

Maintenance crews did an A check on the plane Jan. 11, the mildest of service checkups. Crews performed a C check on the place Jan. 13, 1999. That type of service involves a more intensive review off the plane, Evans said.

"I think we're all in shock, like everybody else is," Evans said. "The mood is pretty somber. There are obviously crew members on board that people know here really well."

Shortly after the crash, Alaska Airlines sent hundreds of employees who serve on its passenger assistance teams to help with grieving family members and friends. The employees were sent to the final destinations of Flight 261 passengers.

"We plan for this type of eventually every day in the airline business," Evans said. "Of course, we hope that it will never happen.

"The phones have been ringing off the hook," Evans said. "We have people here, people on our reservation system, people everywhere answering questions."

The Associated Press, The New York Times and the Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

* News Tribune staff writers Lisa Kremer, Aimee Green, Stacey Burns, Sarah Duran and Stefano Esposito contributed to this report.

SIDEBAR Passengers' destinations Of the 83 passengers aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 261: * 47 were bound for Seattle. * 32 for San Francisco. * 3 for Eugene, Ore. * 1 for Fairbanks, Alaska.

Of the five crew members: * 3 flight attendants were from Seattle. * 2 pilots were from Los Angeles.

Hot line for family members Alaska Airlines has provided the following number for relatives of Flight 261 passengers: 1-800-553-5117.

The following fields overflowed: CAPWRITER = Duncan Livingston/The News Tribune