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Investigators Begin Crash Probe

January 21, 1990

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Federal investigators Saturday retrieved the flight data recorder from the wreckage of a corporate jet that crashed while trying to land in a downpour, killing all seven people aboard.

The crash Friday night of the Eastman Kodak jet strewed debris across Little Rock Regional Airport’s main runway, forcing officials to close the airport and stranding scores of passengers.

Crews cleared smaller debris from an alternate runway, and air traffic resumed on a limited basis late Saturday morning, said airport Manager James Rodgers.

″Right now we have a team of investigators out there documenting the scene, trying to get all the information we possibly can from the physical evidence,″ said Clint Thorpe, head of the National Transportation Safety Board team investigating the crash.

Officials plan to investigate the possibility that wind shear or lightning played a role in the accident, Thorpe told an airport news conference. A thunderstorm was reported in the area at the time.

Thorpe said the flight data recorder would be sent to Washington for analysis and that the device was expected to yield information in the next three or four days.

Investigators also will review tapes from the airport tower of conversations between the jet’s crew and air traffic controllers, and maintenance records on the aircraft were being flown in at the agency’s request, Thorpe said.

A preliminary report on the crash could be filed with the NTSB as early as next week, he said.

Rodgers said operations were normal before the crash despite the weather. ″The weather was extremely bad on this particular flight, but it had been deteriorating all day,″ he said.

The crew was attempting to make an instrument landing during the storm when the jet hit a tower 2,500 feet short of the main runway, lost a wing and a wheel, spun into the ground and disintegrated in a fireball, Thorpe said.

The twin-engine Gulfstream jet was flying officials of Kodak’s Arkansas Eastman subsidiary and family members from Longview, Texas, to Batesville nearly 80 miles northeast of Little Rock.

The flight originated in Kingsport, Tenn., with 10 people aboard, said James M. Jones, a spokesman for Arkansas Eastman. In Longview, two Texas Eastman officials and a spouse got off the plane.

The crew then decided they couldn’t get to Batesville because of the weather and headed for Little Rock, Jones told the news conference.

Among the dead were former Arkansas Eastman President H.L. ″Bud″ Gernert, 65, who retired last year; his wife, Marian, 65; and Arkansas Eastman employees William Schirmer, 56; Randy Wood, 39; and Nathan Casteel, 49, all of Batesville, company officials said. Also killed were Eastman pilots Don Mason, 59, and Ed O’Neal, 55, both of the Kingsport, Tenn., area.

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