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Eastern Jet Rips Top Off Turboprop, Killing One

January 19, 1990

ATLANTA (AP) _ A landing Eastern Airlines jet tore the top off a twin-engine plane that touched down just before it, killing one person aboard the smaller aircraft, officials said.

None of the 149 people on the jet was injured in the accident on a runway at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, an Eastern spokesman said. The spokesman said a wing was damaged on the jet, a Boeing 727.

The collision involved Eastern Flight 111, which originated in Montreal and stopped in New York, and a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air 100 flying from a suburban airport. A second person aboard the Beechcraft was injured.

Both planes had been cleared to land, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jack Barker said.

Asked if that indicated a problem in the control tower, he replied, ″That’s under investigation.″

″Obviously something went wrong for two airplanes to hit each other on the runway,″ Barker said. ″Everything involving the movement of those two aircraft will be considered″ by federal investigators.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators from Washington arrived today. Spokeswoman Drucella Andersen said they would question witnesses, including the Eastern crew and the smaller plane’s injured co-pilot, and would examine air traffic control tapes and Eastern’s operating procedures.

Under aircraft approach rules, ″the arriving aircraft cannot be cleared to land until the preceding aircraft has left the runway,″ Ms. Andersen said. ″We won’t speculate as to what this might mean. I can’t tell you what the cause is.″

Roger Myers, another FAA spokesman, said the Eastern plane was completing its landing as the Beechcraft still was taxiing on the runway.

″The Eastern airliner landed behind him, and they collided on the runway,″ Myers said. ″He (The Eastern pilot) was on his landing roll,″ meaning the jet was still rolling to a stop.

Barker said officials did not know how much time lapsed between the two plane landings, although ″It was very close between the two.″

It isn’t unusual for planes to land within two minutes of each other at Hartsfield, which was the world’s busiest airport in 1987 and ranked third last year, according to FAA figures. The airport averaged 75 landings an hour on two runways in 1987, an airport spokesman said then.

It was the first pilot death at Hartsfield since three Delta Air Lines crew members were killed in a 1958 accident, said Hartsfield spokeswoman Rhonda Copenny. She said the huge airport has never had a passenger fatality.

Gene Griffin, an Eastern passenger from New York, said, ″The plane veered to the left and hit something. I thought maybe it was a pothole. No one was really sure what was going on, but no one was really hurt or shaken up.″

Those who witnessed the collision described it much differently.

″I seen this debris flying everywhere, terrible, just like it flipped over and it was way up in the air - terrible,″ said Rodney Johnson, an airport ground worker.

Airport spokesman John Braden said the jet coasted 2,000 feet before stopping.

The runway where the crash occurred was closed until National Transportation Safety Board investigators would let airport workers move the wreckage, probably sometime today, Braden said. Operations continued normally on the other runways.

There was a little rain and fog at the time of the collision, but ″it was not bad weather,″ Braden said. He said he had not talked to controllers in the tower about what might have happened.

The Beechcraft was owned by Epps Air Service and based at DeKalb Peachtree Airport on the edge of Atlanta. The two men aboard the plane were Epps employees, Braden said.

″The top half of the plane was pretty well sheared off. ... The engines are intact,″ Braden said. The tail section also was missing.

Killed was Eric Thomas, 30, of Acworth, Ga., and injured was Daniel Olthoff, 26, of Norcross, Ga., said officials at the hospital where both were taken. Olthoff was described as ″conscious, alert and talking.″

″Passengers on the Eastern flight are OK. No injuries,″ said Eastern spokesman Robin Matell in Miami.

Matell said the flight was carrying 141 passengers and a crew of eight; Atlanta was its final destination. Matell said the Eastern plane’s captain, whose name was not released, had 23 years’ experience with the company.

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