Thursday, July 31, 2008

At least eight people have been killed in a plane crash near the southern Minnesota town of Owatonna, the Associated Press and local media reported Thursday morning.

One person, who had been listed in critical condition as of 11:40 a.m. in the Owatonna hospital has died from injuries sustained in the accident, the Associated Press reported just before 3:00 p.m. that afternoon. At least one person is unaccounted for while investigator determine whether the person boarded the plane in New Jersey, according to the Steele County Sheriff’s Office.

Star Tribune reported that charter flight 81, a Raytheon BAE 125-800A commercial jet, had not landed properly on the 5,500 foot runway at Owatonna Degner Regional Airport just after 9:30 a.m local time en route from Atlantic City, New Jersey. The plane either tried to take off or could not stop in time.

The plane was owned by East Coast Jets Inc. of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Aviation Research Group told the Star Tribune that East Coast Jets operates 11 aircraft — Hawker and Lear jets — and employs 21 pilots.

“They have a good safety history,” ARG President Joe Moeggenberg told the Star Tribune, based on federal data. “There were no recent incidents.”

This model of aircraft “has a very good safety record; been around along time,” said Gary Robb, aviation expert and attorney with a Kansas City law firm that represents aviation crash victims.

Gary Robb, an aviation expert and attorney told the Star Tribune that the aircraft “has a very good safety record [and has] been around along time.”

According to the Star Tribune, the pilots have been identified as Clark Keefer of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Dan D’Ambrosio of Hellertown, Pennsylvania. Pilot error has not been identified as a cause for the crash, but investigators caution it is to early for any conclusions to be made.

Graphics released by the Star Tribune show that the plane ended up past the runway it was attempting to land on. The Associated Press reports that debris was scattered 500 feet beyond the runway.

The bodies have been taken to Rochester for examination, while the plane’s data recorders have been flown to Washington, DC.

Both WCCO-TV and the Star Tribune report that the time of the crash coincided with a line of storms moving through the area, though what effect, if any the storm had, is under investigation. Witnesses told the Star Tribune that the worst of the storm had gone at the time of the crash and only light wind and rain remained. The Associated Press confirms from the National Weather Service that “the storms were subsiding at the time of the crash.”

Owatonna resident John Billingsly, a retired pilot who worked at the airport for many years, told the Star Tribune, “I saw the plane making its final approach, and it appeared nothing was wrong. We’d just had a lot of wind, but it had calmed down a bit and mostly subsided by that time.”

The plane, a charter for Viracon, Inc. of Owatonna, was flying customers from “a couple of different companies” to discuss a $2 billion dollar casino and hotel project in Las Vegas, Nevada that Revel Entertainment is building. Atlantic City Mayor Scott Evans told the Associated Press that two high-level employees for Revel and an employee of Tishman Construction. Viracon is an architectural glass fabricator and Tishman is assisting Revel.

As of 5:00 a.m Friday, five of the victims, including the two pilots, have been identified by the Associated press.

APG International, a company specializing in glass facades, lost two executives: Marc Rosenberg, the chief operating officer, and Alan Barnett, an assistant project manager, according to the Glassboro, N.J. company’s spokeswoman Amelia Townsend.

The Tishman empoyee, the only victim identified, was project manager Karen Sandland, 44, based in Newark, New Jersey company spokesman Bud Perrone told the Associated Press.

The Revel employee’s idenities were released by the Star Tribune Friday, they are: Tony Craig, 50, of Brigantine, N.J., vice president of construction development; Chris Daul, 44, of Northfield, N.J., vice president of construction development; and Lawrence (Chip) Merrigan, 62, of Absecon N.J., director of field operations.

The crash is the deadliest in Minnesota since October 2002, when Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone and seven others died after their chartered twin-engine plane crashed in the woods near Eveleth, in Northern Minnesota, according to the Star Tribune.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent agency responsible for investigation of accidents involving aviation, highway, marine, pipelines and railroads in the United States (except aircraft of the armed forces and the intelligence agencies), will be investigating the crash.

The NTSB reported Friday through the Star Tribute that the agency has 14 investigators working on the crash, with assistance from the FBI.

The NTSB reports two other fatal accidents since 1962 at Owatonna airport. A crash in 1992 killed one and injured another and a crash in 2004 killed four people.

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