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Jet With 25 Aboard Crashes In Colorado Springs; Apparently No Survivors

March 4, 1991

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) _ A United jetliner with 25 people on board crashed in flames as it approached the Colorado Springs airport early Sunday. There were apparently no survivors, authorities said.

″We can’t even find a chair,″ said El Paso County Sheriff Bernie Barry. ″There’s not a great deal of that airplane left.″

United Flight 585 en route from Denver crashed at 9:55 a.m. four to five miles south of the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington said. There were 20 passengers on board and a crew of five.

The FAA and the airline said all aboard apparently were killed. The plane narrowly missed houses and apartment buildings; at least one person on the ground was injured.

The United States Olympic Committee said two committee employees and a coach with the U.S. Cycling Federation were aboard the plane. United officials said a list of victims probably will be released Monday.

″There does not appear to be″ any survivors, said Dick Meyer of the FAA’s public information office in Seattle. Chicago-based United said in a statement that ″at this time there are no reports of survivors″ aboard the twin-engine Boeing 737-200.

″All obviously are presumed dead,″ said Sgt. Dean Kelsey of the El Paso County sheriff’s office.

Meyer said there was no communication from the pilot to the airport control tower indicating any problem before the crash. The plane was last inspected Sunday at Denver and had no history of problems, Lawrence Nagin, United senior vice president, said at a news conference at company headquarters.

A witness, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Leo Martinez, said that the plane banked sharply, veered and then crashed virtually nose first.

″I watched and it went vertically into the ground,″ he said. ″There was a huge fireball, black smoke and orange flame.″

He said there was ″nothing - just debris, very small debris. You can see tires burning. I don’t think there’s a part larger than a suitcase. You can’t see any wings ... or anything.″

Sheriff’s Lt. Bill Mistretta said the plane crashed in an unincorporated residential area called Widefield. The plane crashed in a park surrounded by houses and apartment buildings.

″It’s a long and narrow park,″ Martinez said. ″If he (the pilot) did this on purpose, no one in Iraq and Saudi Arabia could have done a better job of flying. It is the only place he could have taken it in.″

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

The blackened and twisted wreckage was scattered across the park. A piece of engine turbine was found across from the apartment complex in a vacant field, about a third of a mile from the crash site, sheriff’s officials said.

Ed Arangio, administrator at Memorial Hospital, said a 12-year-old girl who was in the doorway of her house suffered a head injury when she was blown backward by the force of the crash. She was treated and released.

The weather was clear but there were high, gusty winds in the area at the time of the crash, Mistretta said. The National Weather Service said winds were from the northwest at 23 mph gusting to 32 mph.

The National Transportation Safety Board was on the scene Sunday evening and Air Force officials brought several sets of portable lights to aid the investigation.

Authorities at Stapleton International Airport in Denver, the plane’s last stop before the crash, set up a lounge where relatives of passengers could go for information and comfort, said airport official Richard Boulware.

The two-person cockpit crew was based in San Francisco and the flight attendants were based in New York City.

Mike Moran, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said that among those on board the plane were Dr. Peter J. Van Handel, 45, a senior sports physiologist; Dr. Andrzej J. Komor, 39, a sports biochemist; and Dan Birkholtz, a cycling development coach and coordinator.

Boulware said the plane’s last stop before Denver was Moline, Ill. Before that, it stopped in Peoria, Ill.

It was the third major accident involving U.S. airlines in three months. On Dec. 3, two Northwest Airlines jets collided on the ground at the Detroit airport, killing eight people. On Feb. 1, a USAir jet landing at the Los Angeles airport struck a commuter plane on the runway, killing 34 people.

Boeing spokesman Craig Martin in Seattle said the Boeing 737-200 was delivered to now-defunct Frontier Airlines in May 1982.

Nagin said United bought the plane in June 1986. He said the aircraft was ″relatively young″ with only 26,000 air hours and 19,734 flights. It had a capacity of 109 passengers.

Colorado Springs is a city of 220,000 about 70 miles south of Denver.

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