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9 Die as Fiery Plane Almost Hits Terminal

March 05, 1987|JAMES RISEN | Times Staff Writer

ROMULUS, Mich. — A twin-engine commuter plane with 19 people on board crashed, plowed into a group of parked trucks and skidded to within 20 feet of a crowded passenger gate before bursting into flames near the main terminal of Detroit's Metropolitan Airport Wednesday. At least nine people were killed and 20 injured, authorities said.

Airport officials here said Northwest Airlink Flight 2268, arriving from Cleveland on an unseasonably warm and sunny afternoon, crashed at 2:34 p.m., carrying 12 passengers, 3 crew members and 4 airline employees.

At least 10 ground crew members were among the injured taken to hospitals. Some of them were caught among the group of three or four food service trucks and baggage carts that were rammed and demolished by the burning plane as it skidded toward the terminal.

It was the worst accident in the airport's history, officials said.

Airport officials and the Wayne County, Mich., Sheriff's Department did not immediately provide a list of the dead or injured. A spokesman for the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office also said Wednesday night that none of the dead had been officially identified.

An airline spokesman said late Wednesday that the pilot and first officer of the aircraft were killed, but the only flight attendant on board survived. The spokesman refused to release the identities of the crew members or provide a passenger manifest.

Airport Director Richard Jamison said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon that the food service trucks--which were parked only a few yards from the airport's Concourse F--were the only things that stopped the aircraft from plowing through the gate area's floor-to-ceiling windows and into the packed terminal building.

Terminal Charred

The burning wreckage was so close to the gate area that airport officials said the outside wall of the terminal building was slightly charred by the flames. Airport officials said they were unsure, however, whether any debris hit or damaged the terminal building.

Although no one inside the terminal building was injured, passengers about to board planes watched in horror as the aircraft, a CASA CA 21 twin-engine turbo-prop, flipped and skidded down a taxi-way and plowed into the parked trucks in front of them.

Thomas Moore, 34, of Dearborn Heights, Mich., said he watched as the plane tried to land.

"All of a sudden, he took a hard left bank, and the plane came into the ground, left wing and nose first," Moore told WWJ radio in Detroit. "There was a big, huge fireball, and then it was consumed by black smoke."

Wing Sheared Off

The aircraft was gutted by the fire and was resting on its back when reporters were allowed to visit the site. The aircraft's tail was resting just a few feet from the outer door of the jetway at Gate F-10, and one of its wings had apparently driven through and damaged a nearby food service van, shearing away from the fuselage.

Airport officials said they were incredulous that there were survivors, and there were reports, which airport officials could not confirm, that some passengers had been on fire as they ran screaming from the wreckage. Several survivors were being treated for serious burns as well as other injuries.

"That was a terrible crash and, if anyone came out of it alive, it was miraculous," Jamison said.

Crash investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board flew to Detroit from Washington and Chicago Wednesday night to begin an examination of the accident site, which was cordoned off by airport authorities. Metro Airport, the only major airport serving the Detroit area, was closed for a half hour after the crash, and the runway near the accident site remained closed into the night.

Airlink Flight 2268, operated for Northwest Airlines by Fischer Bros. Aviation, a commuter service, apparently originated in Mansfield, Ohio, and had an intermediate stop in Cleveland before coming to Detroit.

Airport official Jim Vollman said that the aircraft apparently was having difficulty on its approach and then completely missed its assigned runway, 21 Right, and hit the ground on an adjacent taxiway that leads past the main terminal building.

The plane then bounced, flipped and skidded nearly a quarter of a mile, Vollman estimated, before crashing into the parked trucks and landing on its back. It was unclear why the pilot ran into trouble when landing on the calm, sunlit afternoon.

Airport officials said that six of the injured--one passenger and five ground personnel--were taken to Annapolis Hospital in Wayne, Mich. Another six--four passengers and two ground crew members--were taken to Westland Medical Center, in Westland, Mich. They were treated for burns and lacerations at Westland, administrative secretary Joanne Shemwell said. Three of the injured there were in fair condition and three were in good condition, she said.

Two others, a ground crew member and an unidentified victim, were taken to Heritage Hospital in Taylor, Mich.

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