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Commuter Plane Crashes in Alabama, Killing 13 With PM-Plane Crash-List

July 11, 1991

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ A commuter plane coming in for a landing during an electrical storm plowed into two houses, killing 13 people on board and scattering terrified residents. Four people on the ground were hurt, none seriously.

L’Express Flight 508, carrying two crew members and 13 passengers, went down Wednesday evening five miles outside Municipal Airport on a flight from New Orleans via Mobile, authorities said. The pilot and one passenger survived.

The twin-engine turboprop smashed into a home, slid across the street and plowed into another house where L.V. Hendking, his wife, Susan, and their niece Carolyn McCreary were watching television.

″I heard a loud boom and then heard glass shattering,″ Ms. McCreary said. ″I went into the kitchen and there was a man in there with his head on fire. He said, ’Get out 3/8 There’s been a plane crash 3/8‴

Mrs. Hendking said she threw a towel on the man’s head, and everyone ran out to escape flames engulfing the house. It was not immediately known if the man was the surviving passenger, Mabry Rogers, 43, a lawyer from Mountain Brook.

Police Capt. Bill Gaut said Rogers was walking around in a daze when he was rescued. He was reported in stable condition at a hospital today with a broken leg.

The pilot, Francis Fernandes, 54, of Niceville, Fla., was in stable condition with head and chest injuries, authorities said. Residents found him about 70 feet from the crash site. He was bleeding profusely.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known but a storm had been going through the area at the time.

″There was lots of high winds and thunder and lightning. The rain had just begun to come down,″ said police Sgt. Elvis Kennedy.

Susan Coughlin, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board team sent to the crash site, said this morning that the cockpit voice recorder was found. Investigators had thought there was no cockpit voice recorder on the plane - they are not required on commuter planes - ″but they looked and found it,″ she said.

Investigators toured the crash carnage this morning, viewing the living room of one home where the plane sheared away a wall, leaving furniture in view from outside, including a lamp with a piece of the plane on it. A police officer told investigators that several of the victims, including an infant, were found in a pile in the living room.

L’Express President Bruce Nobles said the pilot contacted the control tower shortly before the 6:12 p.m. crash and gave no indication of any problems with the plane.

At a news conference today, Nobles said there was no reason to believe that mechanical problems led to the crash; the plane was in excellent condition when it left New Orleans, he said.

The Beechcraft C-99 was 6 or 7 years old and was bought about 10 days earlier from Beech Aircraft in Wichita, Kan., where it underwent major refurbishment, Nobles said.

L’Express filed for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition seeking a reorganization of its finances in January. But Nobles said the company’s financial difficulties have not compromised its safety and maintenance programs.

Witnesses said the plane swerved as it came down in what may have been an attempt by the pilot to avoid the houses.

A partial list of the victims was released this morning.

In addition to the two houses hit by the plane, 13 were damaged by fire and debris, authorities said.

″I was standing on my front porch and it was coming straight toward me,″ said Helen Crowe, 65, who lives two doors down from the crash site. ″I just thank the Lord I’m alive.″

Todd Bennett, 30, who arrived at the burning wreckage before rescue workers, said passengers were in flames when he got close enough to see them.

″There were two people sitting up still in their seats, and they were burning,″ he said. ″It didn’t even look real.″

″I didn’t expect to see anybody alive in that plane. You couldn’t see them for the flames, and you couldn’t hear any screams,″ he said. ″It was burning pretty good. As soon as it hit, it just went up in flames.″

The plane’s blackened hulk lay amid the rubble early today as rescuers began removing the bodies of the victims.

The Hendkings and McCreary were treated at a hospital for minor injuries and released. An 81-year-old man, Leon Warren, who lived in the first house struck by the plane, was in fair condition with minor burns, authorities said.

Carl Tackett, a L’Express vice president, said from the carrier’s New Orleans headquarters that it was the airline’s first crash since it began service in August 1989. L’Express operates in Louisiana, Alabama and Texas.

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