Officials Go to Missouri Site Where 13 Died in Plane Crash
Published: October 21, 2004  (must register to view original article)

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 - A twin-engine turboprop airliner crashed Tuesday night near the airport in Kirksville, Mo., killing 13 of 15 people on board. Federal investigators said Wednesday evening that the plane's two "black boxes" had good recordings and that they were optimistic that they would find the cause of the crash.

Two passengers survived and 11 died, along with both pilots, said Carol Carmody, the member of the National Transportation Safety Board sent to the scene, which is about 220 miles northwest of St. Louis, where the flight originated.

The plane, flown by Corporate Airlines, a commuter affiliate of American Airlines, crashed shortly before 8 p.m. Tuesday in low overcast and drizzle. Asked about the weather, Ms. Carmody said, "I certainly wouldn't call it severe."

Air traffic controllers had authorized the plane, a Jetstream 32, to descend to 3,000 feet from 15,000. There was no distress call, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but the plane had been scheduled to have a better warning system installed in the next few months to alert pilots if they were flying too low. The plane appeared to be on a path to the 6,000-foot runway at Kirksville's airport when it hit trees, severing one wing. Most of the rest of the wreckage was about 100 feet farther on, in a fairly compact area, Ms. Carmody said.

Investigators have found the aircraft's two black boxes and shipped them to a laboratory here where they will undergo analysis.

Several of the dead and both of the survivors had been on their way to a workshop at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. "Almost everybody on the plane were doctors, except for the pilots,'' Ms. Carmody said.

Among those on the plane was Dr. Steve Z. Miller, the director of pediatric emergency medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, according to university officials. Two colleagues said that he was among the dead. Dr. Richard Sarkin, 54, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Buffalo, was also on the plane, according to a university spokesman who said that Dr. Sarkin had not been confirmed dead but that dental records had been requested.

A female passenger was found walking around, and a male passenger was lying in brush about 25 feet from the plane, said Chief Deputy Larry Logston of Adair County. The bodies of the dead were found in the fuselage.

When emergency workers reached the crash scene, the fuselage was in flames and the wings and tail were severed, Deputy Logston said.

Philip Slocum, vice president for medical affairs and dean at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, said the crash had left the campus shaken. "We're a very close-knit family, so a lot of these students knew the people,'' he said. "One of my freshmen came up and gave me a big hug, and I've been up all night, so it kind of broke down my defenses a little bit. It's a very emotional time. These are our brothers and sisters we lost.''

Investigators from Britain, the airplane's country of manufacture, were called to join the investigation, along with the propeller maker and others.

The plane that crashed, American Connection 5966, was a Jetstream 32, which carries a cockpit crew of two and up to 19 passengers, with two seats on one side of the aisle and one on the other. The plane was one of 17 operated by Corporate Airlines, based in Smyrna, Tenn.

Corporate Airlines serves 11 destinations from its St. Louis hub, and two more from Nashville, flying as far as Atlanta and eastern Tennessee. Its planes carry the name American Connection, and its schedules are coordinated with American Airlines'. Corporate Airlines began operating in December 1996. The plane that crashed was built in 1990.

The safety board usually takes about a year to establish the cause of such crashes. But one issue for investigators in the Kirksville crash could be the type of system on the plane to warn of flying into the ground.

Gretchen Ruethling contributed reporting from Chicago for this article.