Soldiers Shopped at Airport During Stop-over With AM-Plane Crash, Bjt
GANDER, Newfoundland (AP) _ They were coming home for Christmas.
The young Americans, members of the elite 101st Airborne Division, crowded into the duty-free store at Gander International Airport before dawn Thursday for last-minute shopping.
″Just about every one of them bought some little thing to take back home,″ said Cynthia Goodyear, an employee who waited on many of the soldiers. ″They were just so happy to be going home.″
Many of the 250 soldiers sang Christmas carols.
They had only a short stopover in icy Newfoundland while their DC-8 charter flight refueled for the last leg of a journey that began in the Middle East.
About an hour before sunup the heavily loaded jetliner rolled through the blackness toward the long runway.
″You could just hear it taxiing up. It was the same sound as anytime,″ said Judy Parsons, a car rental agent who saw the crash from the airport parking lot. ″We hear it so much, we don’t even notice it. It was pitch black.″
She recalled starting two cars to warm their engines, and looking at her watch.
″It was exactly a quarter to seven. I was expecting the Eastern Provincial flight (from St. John’s, Newfoundland), which we had customers on.″
Minutes after take-off the Arrow Air jetliner plunged earthward and exploded in a ball of fire, killing all 258 people aboard.
″There was this flash in the sky - like a sunset,″ Ms. Parsons recalled. ″I said to my competitor (Hedley Gill), ’The sky seems awful bright this morning.‴
Airport manager John Pitman said the aircraft carried 101,000 pounds of fuel on takeoff.
The flash ″lasted for about, oh, two seconds...,″ Ms. Parsons continued. ″Then right after, I saw the explosion. That lasted for about four or five seconds. And then all the black smoke just came out.″
Gill also recalled seeing a large puff of smoke from the parking lot.
″I heard this loud thump,″ he said. ″And then I saw a big mushroom of fire, right off the end of the runway there and black smoke piling up.
″So I figured that it was the aircraft. It had to be a crash,″ Gill said.
He went inside and asked the airport commissioner if a plane had just taken off. The answer was yes.
″I said there was a crash at the end of the runway,″ Gill recalled. At that point, the commissioner ″didn’t know anything about it.″
Gill added: ″When I found out about all the passengers on the plane - a lot of the time it’s cargo jobs that fly out of here - that was really scary.″
The American servicemen were en route to Ft. Campbell, Ky., where the 101st ″Screaming Eagles″ are based. They had completed a six-month tour in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula as part of a multi-national peacekeeping force. The flight began in Cairo and had stopped to refuel in Cologne, West Germany.