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Australia Plane Crash Kills Eight

September 5, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ A twin-propeller plane with eight people on board ran out of fuel and crashed early Tuesday after flying across Australia apparently on autopilot. Officials said all aboard were killed.

Rescuers who reached the remote crash scene in northern Australia said the craft had apparently burst into flames as it slammed into the ground.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the Beechcraft King Air 200 crashed at 2 a.m. It apparently ran out of fuel after flying in a virtually straight line about 1,700 miles from Perth in western Australia.

Police believe the plane depressurized, rendering the pilot and passengers unconscious because of a lack of oxygen. The plane crashed near the mining town of Mount Isa in northwestern Queensland, about 1,300 miles northwest of Sydney, AMSA spokeswoman Beverley Atkins said.

``It would appear as though the airplane was on autopilot ... and it would have maintained a constant heading until the aircraft ran out of fuel, at least on one engine anyway,″ said Barry Sargeant, deputy director of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

The plane was shadowed for part of its journey by a plane belonging to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and another small commercial plane. Both tried unsuccessfully to make radio contact with the plane’s pilot.

The crash had similarities to one last October in which two-time U.S. Open golf champion Payne Stewart and five others died when Stewart’s Learjet drifted on autopilot for hours before running out of fuel and crashing in South Dakota.

The plane was making a chartered flight from Perth to the western Australian gold mining town of Leonora, about 370 miles to the west.

One of Australia’s largest gold producers, Sons of Gwalia, had chartered the plane. Seven Sons of Gwalia staff were on board, plus the pilot.

Accident investigators were expected to reach the remote crash scene Tuesday. Flight recorders were not required on the light plane.

Update hourly