- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Jan. 8 (UPI) — The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday they have found one of the black boxes and are looking for another in a commuter plane crash at Charlotte.

Authorities said 21 people were killed in the crash of the Beech 1900D plane on takeoff on a flight to Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.

An Air Midwest Beech 1900 turboprop commuter plane crashed into a hangar on takeoff Wednesday, killing the 19 passengers and two crew members aboard, police and airline officials said.

There also was a report that three people inside or near the hangar were unaccounted for shortly after the crash of US Airways Express Flight 5481 just before 9 a.m. but they were located alive and uninjured.

The plane, Flight 5481 from Charlotte to Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C., had flipped and landed on its back, a witness said.

Another witness, Tommy Stacey, told local NBC news he heard "a sputtering noise like a boat sputtering on the water.

"I looked behind me and saw a plane going straight up in the air."

He said the plane then nose-dived into the ground, adding he saw a ball of fire and heard an explosion.

John Goglia of the National Transportation Safety Board said a first look at the site did not reveal any theories on the cause of a crash.

He said he had spotted the flight data recorder in the wreckage, and a forklift is moving pieces of the plane to find the voice recorder. Both are always considered keys to the investigation of a plane crash.

He also said there was a radio transmission from the cockpit that said there was an emergency, but it provided no details.

He said the Mecklenberg County medical examiner's office was recovering the remains of the victims, including an 11-year-old child, believed to be a boy.

He said NTSB investigators have interviewed several witnesses to the crash already.

"We have heard that it came down as a steep angle but we have to remind everybody that witness statements do not always provide the most reliable information," Goglia said.

The FBI and Charlotte Fire Chief Luther Fincher said there was no evidence terrorism was involved in the crash of the plane, flying at full capacity.

"We have no indication it was anything other than accidental at this time," Fincher said.

"The airplane barely hit one corner of it (the hangar). No one inside the building was injured," said Jerry Orr, director of operations at the airport. "Damage to the hangar is relatively minor."

Orr said the plane was airborne 2,000 feet or more before it crashed.

Fincher said fire department personnel arrived at the scene within 2 minutes of the crash.

"We immediately were trying to find survivors or anyone who needed help," Fincher said. "After a little while we determined we didn't have any survivors."

The FAA said there were no indications the weather was a factor, and the crew made no emergency radio call before the crash.

Air Midwest is part of the Mesa Air Group operating as USAir Express, Frontier JetExpress in Denver, America West Express in Phoenix, Midwest Express and Mesa Airlines in Albuquerque, N.M.

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