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U-2 Spy Plane Crashes in Newspaper Parking Lot; 2 Killed

August 8, 1996

OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) _ A U-2 spy plane exploded and crashed into a newspaper building’s parking lot Wednesday, killing the pilot and a newspaper customer. Two others on the ground were slightly injured.

``The wing just blew off and the plane spiraled right down,″ said Robert Frutos, a technician working on a nearby radio tower. He said the plane burst into flames while still in flight.

Capt. Randy Roby, an experienced instructor assigned to Beale Air Force Base, radioed the Beale tower and declared an in-flight emergency a few minutes before the crash, and witnesses reported seeing a parachute.

Roby, of Fresno, was found dead in his ejection seat, said Lt. Col. Dennis Linn, a spokesman at the base about 25 miles southeast of Oroville.

Jerri Vering, an Oroville woman who had just walked out of the Oroville Mercury Register building, was killed at the plane’s point of impact, newspaper employees said.

Two others were treated at Oroville Hospital for injuries related to the crash: a police officer who suffered from smoke inhalation and a 34-year-old woman who was knocked down by the blast. She was treated for bruises and a temporary loss of hearing, said Bob Wentz, chief executive of the hospital.

Air Force officials said the plane went down about 2:15 p.m. in Oroville, about 60 miles north of Sacramento.

``We were inside and we heard this huge boom. It shook everything in the store,″ said Karissa Nelson, a clerk at a convenience store about 300 yards away. ``We ran outside and we saw everybody running on the street and all this smoke going up.″

The impact left a large area of charred blacktop outside the newspaper office but few discernible pieces of the plane other than a piece of the tail section. The building, which was evacuated due to the smoke, did not seem heavily damaged, but several cars appeared burned.

The U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, built by Lockheed, may be flown by a crew of one or two. Only about 49 feet long but with 80-foot wingspans, U-2s can reach altitudes above 70,000 feet. They are powered by a single jet engine.

Built as Air Force spy planes during the Cold War, the U-2 became famous when U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down by the Soviet Union in 1960 in the Ural Mountains. Powers was held by the Soviets for 21 months.

More recently, the planes have been used for high-altitude research.

Beale’s 99th Reconnaissance Squadron, the only unit of its kind in the Air Force, operates U-2s at Beale and bases in England, Cyprus, Korea and the Middle East.

On Aug. 6, 1995, a Beale AFB U-2 crashed shortly after takeoff, about 80 miles west of London, while in support of NATO forces in Bosnia. The pilot, Air Force Capt. David Hawkins, 34, was killed.

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