URGENT Air Crash Kills U.S. Sen. John Heinz, Six Others
BALA CYNWYD, Pa. (AP) _ U.S. Sen. John Heinz and six others were killed today when his airplane and a helicopter collided and crashed in a schoolyard shortly after noon, officials said.
Heinz, 52, was in his third term in the U.S. Senate. The Pittsburgh native also was an heir to the H.J. Heinz food fortune.
In mid-afternoon, sobbing members of Heinz’s staff began walking out of his office in the Russell Senate Office Building. A few minutes later, the senator’s legislative director, Richard Bryers, announced Heinz’s death to reporters.
U.S. Sen. Arlen Spector’s office said Heinz’s fellow Pennsylvania Republican was ″too upset″ to comment because the two had been very close friends.
The Federal Aviation Administration reported three people were aboard the plane, two aboard the helicopter, and there were no survivors. Witnesses reported seeing the bodies of a child and an adult on the ground.
Heinz, in his home state for Congress’ Easter recess, was en route from Williamsport-Lycoming County airport to Philadelphia, his administrative assistant, Cliff Shannon, said in Washington.
A Williamsport airport official said Heinz and two pilots were on the plane. Police said two were killed on the ground, where only a few people were on the schoolyard.
Shannon said he had second-hand reports that the instrument panel on the senator’s plane did not show that the nose gear was ″locked and down.″ He said the Philadelphia airport sent up a helicopter to check, and that the two crafts collided.
Heinz was scheduled to hold a Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing Friday morning at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on telephone marketing scams and Medicare.
Among his other recent legislative issues was Heinz’s push for enactment of legislation, over the Pentagon’s opposition, to prohibit deployment to combat zones of married couples in the military or people who are the sole supporter of a child. The proposal was not passed.
FAA officials at Philadelphia International Airport gave out few details of the crash this afternoon. They said tower personnel identified one of the aircraft as a twin-engine Aerostar PA-60.
The helicopter belonged to Sun Co., spokesman Dick Jackman said from Radnor.
The aircraft burst into flame on impact and went down in a ball of flame and thick, black smoke, fire officials said.
A man working down the street from the crash site said he saw two bodies.
″I ran up the street and I saw a little boy on the ground, his clothes burned off, and another one up on the hill, that one was an adult,″ said Mike Notaro. ″They were both covered.″
Police immediately roped off the area as parents rushed to the school to check on their children. Police pleaded with parents to stay home.
Students were inside the Lower Merion school building at the time. Officials said some may have suffered minor injuries.
Authorities said the pilot of the airplane said he had three people aboard and reported trouble with the landing gear. Police sent the helicopter to investigate.
Officials said they did not know how many people were aboard the helicopter.
In Washington, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said a team of investigators was being dispatched to Philadelphia in an attempt to learn the cause of the accident.
Brent Bahler, the spokesman, said the investigation will be headed by board member Susan Coughlin.
Heinz was elected to the U.S. House in a special election in 1971, he was re-elected two times. He was elected to the Senate in 1976 and was re-elected in 1982 and 1988. He would have been up for a fourth term in 1994.
Gov. Robert P. Casey, a Democrat, will appoint a successor to serve until a special election. Under state law, the special election would be held in conjunction with the general election in November.
Heinz was the second ranking Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and also was the ranking GOP member of Banking’s securities subcommittee.
After entering the Senate in 1977, he tried to soften his patrician image by dropping his full name - Henry John Heinz III.