INDIANAPOLIS — A military jet crashed a mile short of an Indianapolis International Airport runway today, plowing into a hotel where at least nine people died and several others were injured as the plane exploded in a "fireball," witnesses said.
Up to 25 people were missing and nine were confirmed dead in the accident at the seven-story Ramada Inn Airport. The crash occurred just after 9 a.m., authorities said.
"Nine is the total unless they find something under debris," said Charles Green, the chief investigator for the Marion County coroner.
Up to 10 people were transported to area hospitals, Fire Department rescue spokesman Larry Curl said.
The A-7D Corsair jet was attempting to make an emergency landing after an engine flameout on a flight from Pittsburgh to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., according to the Federal Aviation Administration and the military. It went down about one mile east of the airport, first hitting a bank building and then slamming into the north side of the hotel.
The hardest hit areas were the second and third floors of the hotel, with the point of impact at the second floor, just above the main lobby. Black smoke poured from the building, and the plane was wedged in the lobby area of the hotel.
The pilot, assigned to the 4450th Tactical Group at Nellis, bailed out before the crash.
He was identified as Maj. Bruce Teagarden, 35, based at Nellis. No hometown was given. He was taken to Methodist Hospital in good condition.
"The pilot ejected after the engine could not be restarted," the Tactical Air Command said. "Weather conditions precluded the pilot from successfully completing a flameout landing." The weather was cloudy at the time.
Jim Yanuzzi, 38, of Flemington, N.J., a guest staying in a second-floor room in the east end of the hotel, said he heard "a big explosion and the whole building shook.
"I went to the door, opened the door, and the hall was full of black smoke. I went back into the room, grabbed a chair and broke out the window."
He said he jumped onto the roof of a first-floor structure and then climbed down a ladder to get to the ground.
Outside, Yanuzzi said he saw a man on fire rolling on the ground and several women running out of the motel.
"Basically, the fires have been suppressed," Curl said about three hours after the crash. There are some hot spots, and there may be more fatalities.