General Says Pilot Did Everything He Could To Avoid Tragedy
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ The military pilot whose flamed-out jet exploded into the lobby of a hotel, killing nine people, ″did everything he could″ to avoid the disaster, an Air Force general said Wednesday.
″It’s tragic. I understand the anguish,″ said Brig. Gen. Joel T. Hall of Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., the home base of Maj. Bruce L. Teagarden, 35, the pilot who ejected safely before Tuesday’s crash.
″But he did the best he could,″ Hall said. ″Air Force policy is to minimize the loss of life in a crash and as best we can determine that’s what he did.″
Allan McArtor, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, who said Teagarden acted ″rather courageously.″
″This is a very tragic accident, and it happened after a pilot rather courageously tried to bring in a crippled jet under adverse weather conditions with a clear attempt to try to avoid loss of life and property and simply was not able to do so.″ McArtor said.
″When he popped out of the overcast, which was only 800 feet, he saw that he was in a populated area and ejected at the very last minute,″ McArtor said.
Later Wednesday, Hall read a statement from Teagarden addressed to ″the families of those killed and injured, and the people of Indianapolis.″
″It is impossible to express to you how deeply grieved I am by your loss,″ Teagardent said in the statement. ″I wish with all my heart that it had been within my power to keep my plane headed toward that open field once I aimed it there.
″Please understand I did everything humanly possible to prevent this. My prayers are with you all.″
Teagarden has been meeting with investigators since the crash. Air Force officials have said Teagarden has been distraught and has not been made available for interviews with the media.
A six-member Air Force crash investigation team spent Wednesday scouring the Ramada Inn where the jet hit.
The last of the nine victims - all Ramada Inn employees - were identified Wednesday.
Marion County Coroner Dennis Nicholas said eight victims were from Indianapolis: Emma J. Brownlee, 37, hotel housekeeper; Katherine Cox, 33, dining room manager; Christopher Lee Evans, 21, bellboy; Beth L. Goldberg, 30, assistant sales director; Brenda J. Henry, 26, hotel housekeeper; Narinder S. Kanwar, 41, assistant manager; Mary Stuart Marsh, 29, assistant sales director; and Dawn S. Martin, 19, front desk clerk.
The ninth victim, Allen D. Mantor, 18, a bellboy, was from Amo, Ind.
Tom Murray, 41, of Indianapolis remained in ″very critical condition″ Wednesday at Wishard Memorial Hospital with third-degree burns on 95 percent of his body.
Staff Sgt. Mark Moore said investigators could be at the scene for two weeks.
Teagarden was on a flight from Pittsurgh to Nellis, with a scheduled stop at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, when his A-7D Corsair lost power at 31,000 feet near Indianapolis. He declared an emergency and airport controllers directed his plane toward a main runway at Indianapolis International Airport.
Teagarden’s first approach was too high, and he attempted to go around, but could not reach the runway. He bailed out at about 800 feet.
The plane smacked the roof of a bank building and then exploded into the lobby of the Ramada Inn.
Teagarden had been in Pennsylvania and West Virginia attending the funeral of Air Force Maj. Gary Swisher, who was killed Oct. 8 when his fighter plane crashed in North Carolina.
Hall said the trip was not personal ″although he had combined a personal part with that. He was on a normal training mission which they are required to do. He was intending to stop and go to the funeral of a friend ...″
The Air Force established a claims center Wednesday for people who suffered property damage. Four attorneys and four claims examiners were working, according to Emil Brupbacher, a senior legal advisor from Grissom AFB, Ind.
″We have had 21 or 22 claims, mostly dealing with personal effects,″ Brupbacher said. ″About eight involved automobiles were in the lot. There have been no personal injury claims.″
The hotel was sealed off as the Air Force conducted its investigation, according to Judy Crawford, a spokeswoman for Ramada Hotel Group in Phoenix, Ariz. She said hotel officials had been unable to assess the extent of damage.
Mayor William H. Hudnut’s office scheduled a memorial service at an Indianapolis church Thursday for the victims.