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Materials found by hikers not data from '85 Bolivian air crash: U.S.

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Tuesday that materials found by two American hikers in Bolivia do not contain any data from missing data recorders from a plane that crashed in 1985 killing 29 people.

Two U.S. hikers recovered several metal fragments in May, one damaged spool of magnetic tape and two additional off-spool sections of magnetic tape from Eastern Airlines Flight 980, NTSB said.

The Boeing 727 jetliner crashed on Jan. 1, 1985 on approach to the airport in La Paz, Bolivia. The hikers recovered the material at the crash site on Mount Illimani, Bolivia about 25 miles from the airport.

NTSB said its examination revealed no identifiable serial numbers, while one metal piece was identified as a cockpit voice recorder rack. Other metal pieces were consistent with parts from the flight data recorder pressurized container assembly.

The magnetic tape on the spool was 3/4-inch U-Matic videotape. NTSB identified it as an 18-minute recording of an episode of the 1960s television series "I Spy," dubbed in Spanish.

The plane, which was traveling at night from Asuncion, Paraguay to La Paz, veered off course and crashed at about 19,600 feet on Mt. Illimani, a 21,000-ft. Andean peak.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said in a 1999 report that "investigators speculate the flight crew were maneuvering to avoid weather in the vicinity, and that impact occurred with the aircraft in cruise configuration, in a shallow descent."

A climbing expedition in the summer of 1985 was unable to retrieve the flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

The climbers said in a blog post on Tuesday they were disappointed in the NTSB findings. "Who’s next to go up Illimani to recover these boxes? Let us know in the comments if you’re going and we’d be more than willing to help with planning. Turns out this mystery is still very much from solved," they wrote.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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