NTSB to investigate plane crash that killed eightby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio,
Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
Eight people are dead following a plane crash in Owatonna Thursday morning. Authorities initially thought there may have been a ninth person on board, but Thursday evening they confirmed only eight were on board.
Steele County authorities say a business jet from Atlantic City, N.J., was landing at the Owatonna airport to refuel when it crashed just northwest of the airport. The airport is about 60 miles south of the Twin Cities.
Owatonna, Minn. — The airport lies alongside I-35 on Owatonna's western edge.
Steele County Sheriff Gary Ringhofer said nine people were supposed to be on the flight from New Jersey when the plane crashed in a cornfield northwest of the Owatonna airport.
Eight people are dead. One person survived the initial crash and was taken to Owatonna City Hospital but died later, said Sheriff Ringhofer.
"It's very, very tragic. In this position you would hope that an event like this never happens in your jurisdiction. Unfortunately, we did and, again, my heart goes out to all the families and relatives and friends of the victims," said Ringhofer.
This crash was the most deadly in the state since the accident that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone and five others in 2002 in northern Minnesota.
The FAA confirmed the flight that crashed in Owatonna was operated by charter service East Coast Jets. The flight was scheduled to land at 9:42 a.m. for a two hour layover and then fly to Crossville, Tenn.
The Raytheon Hawker 800 jet was carrying customers to Viracon, an Owatonna-based glass company. A spokeswoman for Viracon's parent company told Minnesota Public Radio that the passengers on board were Viracon customers, but she did not provide any other details. She said no Viracon employees were involved in the crash.
Atlantic City, N.J., Mayor Scott Evans confirmed that two high-ranking executives from Revel Entertainment were on board the plane when it went down. Revel is building a $2 billion hotel-casino project in Atlantic City. A spokesperson for Revel confirmed that several of its employees died in the crash. The company has not released the names of the dead.
One employee from Tishman Construction, the company managing the project, died in the crash. The company identified her as project manager Karen Sandland.
A New Jersey based architectural firm also had several employees on the plane.
Cameron Smith, a mechanic at the Owatonna airpport, said he spoke by radio with the jet's pilot just minutes prior to the crash. "Didn't sound like there was a problem whatsoever. He just said they'll be landing; they'll be needing fuel and was wondering where to park. And I told him that I'd marshal him in and meet him at the fuel pumps," said Smith.
Two sources, an eyewitness and another who heard a description from an eyewitness, described the crash. Both spoke on condition they not be identified.
They said the the plane landed, rolled down the runway, attempted a takeoff, got in the air, rolled over and crashed nose first into the ground. The eyewitness said the plane attempted to land, the brakes locked up and it attempted to take off. The airport has an all-weather instrument landing system.
A line of thunderstorms, which delivered a 72 mile per hour wind gusts, had passed through the area at 8:35 a.m. However, Owatonna airport weather observations say the worst of the storms had already moved out before the crash at 9:46 a.m. crash.
Minnesota Public Radio meteorologist Paul Huttner says initially there don't seem to be any indications of wind shear at the time of the crash.
"There was rain; there was clouds, visibility was at 10 miles, which is fairly good by aviation standards. So again, we can't draw any conclusions this early, but my initial look at this from a meteorological standpoint tells me we fly in these weather conditions every day around the country," explained Huttner.
The National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched a 10 member team to investigate the crash and it should arrive before dark.
The NTSB's Web site says that there have been two fatal crashes at the airport in the past few years. In 2006, a single-engine Cessna crashed on approach killing four people aboard. In 2003, famed Bush pilot Buzz Kaplan crashed his World War I replica bi-plane into some power lines on takeoff.
- All Things Considered, 07/31/2008, 5:19 p.m.
Elizabeth Stawicki, JD, covers health care reform for MPR News.