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Controllers Lost Plane in ’97 Crash

December 4, 1998

CHICAGO (AP) _ When a federal air traffic controller took a break, he failed to tell his replacement about a small plane he was tracking, a federal investigator concluded. It crashed, and nobody noticed for 13 hours.

All four people in the plane died in last year’s crash, including the one man who an autopsy determined was alive, at least briefly, after the crash.

Controllers at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Terminal Radar Approach Control center in Elgin simply ``lost sight of the aircraft,″ National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Matthew Furman told the Chicago Tribune.

The NTSB’s lead investigator, David Bowling, concluded that the controller tracking the Piper Saratoga took a break and failed to mention the plane to his replacement.

FAA officials declined to comment until the NTSB closes its investigation.

The plane, carrying two couples returning from a five-day vacation, crashed Dec. 22 in a remote area of Kane County after ice collected on its wings.

The plane’s owner and co-pilot, Clyde Huntington, died partly due to hypothermia, according to a pathologist’s report, which noted that his injuries appeared to be ``not immediately lethal.″

The Tribune said the findings have prompted changes at the 2-year-old, $95 million facility, where controllers keep track of one of the world’s busiest air corridors.

Now every conversation between outgoing and incoming controllers are recorded in an effort to encourage detailed briefings. Such recordings are routinely used at other air-traffic control centers.

Controllers are also required to make detailed records of each plane’s approach and landing to ensure planes are not forgotten.

Brian Heimberg, the lawyer for the estate of Huntington, 50, and his wife, Christine, 49, who also died in the crash, said the couple’s relatives don’t think faster emergency response would have saved his life.

``They feel that (even) if the plane had landed next to a fully stocked ambulance there would have been nothing different in its outcome,″ lawyer he said.

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