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Iceland Plane Crash Leaves 2 Dead

March 7, 2001

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) _ Two U.S. women heading to Britain to participate in a long-distance air race died when their twin-engine plane crashed into the sea off Iceland shortly after takeoff, the coast guard said Wednesday.

Pilot Barbara Gard, 52, and her navigator Gwen Bloomingdale, 58, both experienced fliers, had taken off from Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport on Tuesday in an Aero Commando 560 aircraft en route to Stornoway, Scotland.

Weather conditions at the time were poor and overcast, with winds between 35 and 50 mph, said Halli Sigurdsson, spokesman for the Icelandic Civil Aviation Authority. The cause of the crash has not been determined.

About half an hour after takeoff, the two women reportedly changed radio frequencies and contacted air traffic control in Reykjavik to say they had reached an altitude of 15,000 feet. Four minutes later a radar operator noticed that the plane had disappeared from his screen.

Iceland’s coast guard, and British and Icelandic aircraft, launched a search. But the plane’s wreckage was found about eight miles off Iceland’s coast by a ferry, the Herjolfur, which was en route to the Westman Islands. The two bodies were later recovered.

The women had been due to participate in the London-to-Sydney 2001 flying race, which begins on Sunday and finished April 7.

Both women had participated in flying competitions, mostly in the United States, where in 1992 they won a prize in the all-woman Powder Puff Derby. They ran the Willie Air Tours company, which operates from Provincetown, Mass. and Titusville, Fla. The women’s hometowns were not immediately available.

An entry on the company’s Internet site _ since suspended _ described Bloomingdale as a former lawyer and a descendant of the founder of Bloomingdale’s Department Store. Gard was a former Marine and a major in the U.S. National Guard.

Wilf Barker, chief executive of the London-to-Sydney 2001 race, said the women had been among 47 competitors slated to be in the competition.

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