8 Die in Small Plane Crash in Fla.
Sep. 03, 1999
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A twin-engine plane clipped a building and crashed into flames while trying to make an emergency landing in the dark early today, killing the eight people aboard.
The pilot of the Beechcraft King Air BE-90 bound from Michigan to Boca Raton, called the control tower for permission to land at Palm Beach International Airport around 3:30 a.m.
Moments later, there were two calls of ``mayday,'' and then the fiery crash about a half-mile from the runway, on airport property.
``There was no explanation of what the emergency was,'' said Alan Yurman, investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board who listened to a tape of the final radio contact.
Authorities did not immediately confirm the names of the victims. However, Yurman said they were all affiliated with a hair replacement company, the Chambers Hair Institute, in Palm Beach County.
``Our office is temporarily closed due to a tragedy in our family,'' a recording at the hair company said. The company also has a facility in Michigan, authorities said, but the precise reason for the trip was not clear.
The plane was registered as an air ambulance, but Yurman said he did not know if the plane ever was used for medical purposes.
Yurman said eight bodies were found. It took federal aviation officials hours to confirm the number because the wreckage was so twisted and crumpled. For reasons that were not immediately clear, there were only seven people listed on the flight plan.
The badly charred bodies were removed from the wreckage and were being taken to the county medical examiner's office to determine the exact cause of death.
The plane hit the corner of a roof at a strip mall, then clipped power lines and flipped onto a chain link fence at the edge of the airport. It immediately became engulfed in flames, according to Palm Beach sheriff's deputies who were in a helicopter nearby assisting in a hunt for robbery suspects, said spokesman Paul Miller.
The plane was actually lined up with its intended runway, but crashed about half a mile short of it, Yurman said.
A sheriff's deputy was at the crash scene within a minute, Miller said.
``One deputy went through the fence, but it was too late to get to the aircraft,'' Miller said.
A wheel assembly from the plane crashed through the roof of one business, Recreational Factory Warehouse, and wound up next to some spas.
``Just yesterday, I was saying that one of these days, a plane is going to run right through the store,'' said the owner, Fritz Wagor. He said aircraft often fly very low over the mall en route to the nearby airport.
No one on the ground was injured.
The plane took off from Oakland County International Airport near Pontiac, Mich., and was diverted about 5 miles short of its destination when the pilot reported problems. The plane had left Boca Raton for Michigan two days ago with five people aboard, Yurman said.