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Crashed Plane is ‘Big Puzzle’ Being Dug From Ground With AM-Plane Crash-List

March 5, 1991

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) _ Workers dug with heavy equipment and by hand Monday to extricate pieces of a commercial airliner that nosedived into a park, burying itself at least 20 feet in the ground and killing all 25 people aboard.

Federal investigators said it was far too soon to determine what caused the crash of United Airlines Flight 585 on approach to the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport Sunday. The Boeing 737-200, carrying 20 passengers and a crew of five, smashed into the center of a park, narrowly missing houses and an apartment complex.

Early indications were that the National Transportation Safety Board was focusing on weather - particularly the possibility of deadly gusts known as wind shear. They also looked for potential causes of engine failure, including collision with a bird or flock of birds.

″At this point it is a very wide open investigation,″ the NTSB member John Lauber told reporters at the end of the first day of investigation. ″There is nothing we would rule out at this point and nothing we would rule in.″

At an evening press briefing, Lauber said a consensus of 26 witnesses was that the plane was making its final landing approach when it pitched steeply downward and rolled to the right, hitting the park almost straight down. The wreckage was impaled at least 20 feet into the ground, he said.

Air traffic controllers warned the pilot of strong wind gusts just before the plane crashed. But warnings weren’t in effect at the time of the crash, Lauber said.

The National Weather Service reported gusts of 32 mph.

Such gusts can cause an effect known as wind shear, which can reduce a plane’s air speed and make it impossible to stay aloft.

Feathers were found and photographed on small pieces of wing, suggesting the plane hit a bird or birds. But though bird strikes have in certain circumstances caused planes to crash, Lauber said it was unlikely in this case.

″From the pictures I don’t think anybody has gotten excited about″ the possibility of a bird strike, Lauber said. He said none of the witnesses reported seeing birds in the immediate area.

″There’s no evidence of any kind of internal engine fire prior to impact,″ Lauber added.

Investigators found the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder and sent them to Washington for analysis, Lauber said.

Workers used their hands and heavy equipment, including a crane and a fire truck, to recover parts of the twin-engine Boeing 737-200 and remains of the victims.

″We’re making slow but steady progress in the initial stage of the investigation,″ Lauber said earlier. ″We’re working in the impact crater. It is necessary to proceed literally by hand.″

A full list of passengers and crew was released late Monday. The name of the pilot, Capt. Hal L. Green, based in San Francisco, had been withheld until authorities could contact his family.

Three members of the U.S. Olympic organization, two sports scientists and a cycling coach, were among the passengers.

The airline flew family members of the victims to Colorado Springs, United spokesman Joe Hopkins said. Most of the victims lived in Colorado Springs.

The plane, en route from Denver, was on final approach to the airport when it banked sharply and veered into the ground, witnesses said.

Witness Bill Ferguson likened the plane’s descent to ″a dive-bombing mission.″

″It just came down like a missile, like a rocket,″ said Mark Krueger, who had jogged across Widefield Community Park less than a minute before the crash.

″There was a huge fireball, black smoke and orange flames,″ said Leo Martinez, another witness.

Authorities said either the pilot did a brilliant job of dodging the houses or was incredibly lucky.

″Whoever the pilot was, he was thinking of me,″ said Charlie Barker, who lives on the edge of the park. ″He could have set it down in my living room.″

In the only reported injury on the ground, Michelle Summerson, 12, was thrown back from the doorway of her home by the impact of the crash. She was treated at a hospital and released.

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