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Plane With 69 Aboard Crashes in Snow; One Dead, 22 Missing

March 11, 1989

DRYDEN, Ontario (AP) _ An Air Ontario jet with 69 aboard crashed into trees and burst into flames shortly after takeoff during a snowstorm Friday. Airline officials said 23 people were killed.

″We have 46 survivors,″ said airline spokesman Paul McKnight.

Earlier, officials said one person died at the hospital and 22 others were unaccounted for after several hours of searching in deep snow and rough terrain.

Police Constable Bill Brayshaw said the Winnipeg-bound Fokker F-28 caught fire after impact, delaying rescue procedures.

Officials said 65 passengers and four crew were on Flight 363, which originated in Thunder Bay, Ontario. The jet clipped treetops and exploded minutes after takeoff, witnesses and authorities said.

Authorities repeatedly revised the passenger and crew figures, first saying 69 were aboard, then 61 and again 69. Police Sgt. Tom Varga said the revisions were based on information coming from Air Ontario.

Rescue operations stopped for the night and will resume at first light, Hugh Syrja, spokesman for Dryden’s emergency rescue group, said in a phone interview.

The 16-year-old, Dutch-built F-28, a twin-engine jet, took off with visibility about a half-mile, said Norm Pascoe, a spokesman for the Canadian Aviation Safety Board in Ottawa.

Survivor Danny Godin said upon arrival in Winnipeg by air ambulance that the plane ″was loaded very heavy. ... We were delayed in Thunder Bay an hour and we had to take fuel off the airplane because we were above the legal load limit.″

The plane cut a swath a half-mile long and about 100 feet wide near Dryden, a town of 6,500 people on the Trans-Canada Highway about 200 miles northwest of Duluth, Minn.

Earlier, rescuers hampered by the thickly wooded area and more than three feet of snow used snowplows and chainsaws to look for survivors.

Officials said the 46 survivors were taken to hospitals and at least eight were in serious condition. A spokesman at 68-bed Dryden District Hospital, which aided survivors in the lobby and cafeteria, said many of the injured suffered from fractures, burns, bruises and shock.

The Canadian Broadcast Corp. quoted rescue workers as saying the crash occurred in heavy bush country about a half mile off the west end of the runway.

″Most of the people in the very front of the plane did not get out,″ Godin said.

He said he felt ″the plane quiver as we had an air disturbance ... (and it) exploded into flames when it first hit the treetops.″

Jacqueline Saville, general manager of the weekly Dryden Observer, said survivors wandered out to a road where they were picked up by emergency crews.

She said rescue crews used snowmobiles to ferry survivors from the crash site.

″You can see smoke from two miles away,″ she said. ″When it came down, there was smoke.″

Roxane Groves, a nearby resident, heard the aircraft fly overhead.

″It was rumbling really bad,″ she said. ″It didn’t sound normal and then all of a sudden we heard a thump, a good thump. I looked out about five minutes later and there was black smoke all over the place.″

It was the first fatal crash involving a regularly scheduled commercial airliner in Canada in 10 years. In 1979, 17 people were killed in Quebec City when a Quebecair Fairchild 27 went down.

The worst air disaster in Canada occurred in 1985, when 256 people, mainly American servicemen, died in the crash of a chartered Arrow Air DC-8 in Gander, Newfoundland.

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