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Couple Just Missed Fateful Flight

August 1, 1999

COTTRELLVILLE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) _ Skydivers Bob and Caroline Johnson were running late and just missed joining their fellow parachutists aboard a weekend flight, and it saved their lives. The plane crashed, killing 10.

The couple, hosting relatives from Florida, showed up late for their skydiving appointment at Marine City Airport. They had planned to be on Saturday’s first flight of the 1967 Beech King Air 65A-90 _ which veered sharply shortly after takeoff and plummeted into a hayfield, exploding into a ball of fire.

``It’s a very sad day,″ Bob Johnson, of Rochester Hills, told The Detroit News for a report Sunday. ``It’s the weekend when we all take off from everything else and come out and enjoy each other’s company and be thankful for all the times we’ve had.

``We all know the risk, and it’s something we expect. It’s better than sitting home on the couch, scared of life.″

Federal investigators planned to remain at the scene for three to five days, then return to Washington, D.C., to continue to review evidence. A determination of the crash’s cause could take as long as six months.

High heat and humidity can make it more difficult for a plane to take off. But there were no indications that they were the cause of the crash, said Frank Black, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.

It was 82 degrees with 69 percent humidity Saturday morning.

Engine failure does not appear to be a cause, but a final determination will wait for testing, Black said.

It appeared the plane had been properly loaded, an issue that is often to blame for small plane crashes, Black said.

Paul Myks, an experienced commercial pilot who had logged more than 9,000 hours of flight time, had prepared a manifest listing the weight of each jumper and piece of equipment, and appeared to have balanced the weight properly, he said.

The plane did not carry a flight data recorder and was not required to do so, Black said.

The skydivers were part of a group called the Parahawks, who flew out of the airport about 40 miles north of Detroit. All those who died were veteran skydivers.

According to the U.S. Parachute Association, 32 people died while skydiving last year, one for every 100,000 jumps, The Detroit News reported.

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