- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. A twin-engine charter plane carrying 19 persons from Atlantic City, N.J., crashed in a ball of fire yesterday as it attempted to land in poor weather. There were no survivors.

Fiery wreckage was spotted in some woods about nine miles south of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport in northeastern Pennsylvania.

It appeared that both of the turbo prop's engines failed, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Tammy Jones.

The plane missed its first landing approach and crashed on its second attempt, said George Black of the National Transportation Safety Board.

"There is some indication on the air-traffic control tapes that they were encountering engine problems during the first approach and those continued into the second attempt," Mr. Black said at a news conference in Washington.

Investigators were reviewing a transcript from air-traffic controllers who spoke with the crew before the plane crashed.

On a portion of the tape aired by ABC News, one pilot can be heard saying "tell him we lost both engines." The other pilot replies: "We lost both engines, Six Echo Juliet." The plane's cockpit voice recorder was recovered from the crash site, Mr. Black said.

Nearly 10 hours after the 11:48 a.m. crash, John Comey, executive assistant director for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said everybody on board had been killed.

"All the family members that gathered at the airport have been notified that no one survived the crash," he said.

The plane, a 1988 BA-31 Jetstream that carried 17 passengers and two crew members, crashed about two miles into the woods in light rain and fog.

"Apparently there isn't much left in one piece," said Al Bardar, director for emergency management for Luzerne County. "It doesn't look like anyone survived."

About 50 relatives and friends of the victims gathered at the airport to wait for news.

Airport Superintendent Jim Brunozzi said his niece's mother-in-law and father-in-law were among the victims. "That was tough to look at the manifest and see the names," he said. "We were a close family. It's sad."

Anthony J. Giannone, airport ground superintendent, had to console a friend whose wife was on the plane. "He's got two small kids, and he had to leave here to tell them," Mr. Giannone said.

"It's a small, close community, and that's what I think makes it so hard," said Lackawanna County Commissioner Randy Castellani, who arrived soon after the crash.

The victims had left at 5 p.m. Saturday on a flight chartered by Caesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino, said Wy A. Gowell, the airport's assistant director. They were to return at 1:15 a.m., but fog kept the plane grounded in Farmingdale, N.Y., said Peter Hartt, spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

With the flight delayed, the victims spent Saturday night at the casino. The plane left Atlantic City at about 10:30 a.m. yesterday and was scheduled to land in Wilkes-Barre an hour later, Mr. Hartt said.

He said the plane was operated by Executive Airlines, which typically runs casino charters, but he did not know who was aboard. Executive Airlines officials declined to comment.

The plane disappeared from radar about 11:40 a.m. during a second instrument approach, typically performed if the visibility is poor or if there is a low cloud deck.

Emergency crews began searching along the planned flight path of the plane as soon as they were notified shortly after 11:30 a.m. that it would not reach the airport, said Luzerne County 911 spokesman Ron Rome. Wreckage was spotted in a wooded area in Bear Creek Township about 12:45 p.m., he said.

Megan Maguire was outside gardening at her home near the airport on the northern rim of the Pocono Mountains shortly before noon when she heard a plane apparently having problems.

"I heard the engines die, then I heard them start up again, and then they just died. I heard it rev up twice, so it died twice," she said.

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