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Witness Heard a Pop, Then Saw Plane Go Belly Up and Nose Down

September 7, 1985

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Russ Lewandowski and Larry Kroes paused in their work at a construction site Friday and watched as the Midwest Express Airlines jet ″kind of fluttered″ then plunged to the ground.

The plane, a twin-engine DC-9, was bound for Atlanta but got only a half- mile south of the runway at Mitchell Field before crashing in flames, killing all 31 people aboard.

The plane was in the air and ″we heard a pop,″ Kroes said. ″It was just like the engine went out or something. It kind of fluttered. Then, all of a sudden he started banking it and then all of a sudden it went nose down and belly up.″

″You get in the habit of watching the planes take off when you work at the airport, so I was watching him,″ said Lewandowski, an amateur pilot. ″After he fluttered, he lowered the nose real good and had control of it for a good couple seconds.

″He banked to the right, but it seemed like he turned toward the engine that was dead. Then she went right down.″

Lewandowski said the plane had risen about 700 or 800 feet and was flying due south before it banked and turned back toward the runway.

″It kind of scared you at first,″ Lewandowski said. ″I thought for sure he was going to come at us.″

Kroes said a fireball soared ″a good 100 feet″ above the treetops at the crash site on the edge of the Michael Cudahy Forest.

″It was mostly red and we could feel the heat,″ he said.

Lee Zwickey, a technician for WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, was returning with a crew from filming a commercial at a car dealership near the airport.

″I saw the aircraft in the sky. I saw what I thought was a couple of small black puffs of smoke come from the engine. It looked like maybe he was giving it some power,″ he said.

Zwickey said that when he arrived on the scene with a video camera about five minutes later airport emergency crews were already fighting the fire.

″We didn’t see any bodies. There was so much smoke you could hardly see anything,″ he said. ″If there had been anybody alive in there it would have been a miracle.″

″There was a post-crash fire, so there’s not much left,″ said airport director Barry Bateman.

Two hours after the crash, the acrid smell of fire hung in the hot, muggy air as emergency workers awaited the arrival of National Transportation Safety Board investigators.

Part of a wing and other charred debris were scattered across a partly wooded, partly open area about 300 yards long and 75 feet wide. Charred branchless tree trunks stood in the center of the crash area. Wreckage hung from the branches of other trees.

Jim Kerr, assistant airport director, walked around the scene, answering reporters’ questions. His light blue, sweat-soaked dress shirt was streaked with ashes.

″It hasn’t exactly been a banner year for aviation,″ he said. More than 1,400 people have died in commerical aviation crashes this year.

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