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Canucks Had Close-Up View of Fatal Airline Crash at LAX

February 04, 1991|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Vancouver Canucks, arriving in Los Angeles aboard a commercial Canadian airliner Friday night to play the Kings, wound up as spectators to a disaster.

The Canucks landed at Los Angeles International Airport just ahead of the USAir 737-300 that collided with a commuter plane after touching down, killing 33 people.

The Canadian Pacific plane carrying the Canucks had just taxied off the adjacent runway when the collision occurred, affording the Canucks a full view of the tragedy.

"We saw it all right outside the window," Vancouver center Petr Nedved said, "just about 100 meters away."

After crushing the smaller plane, the 737 skidded into an unoccupied fire station.

"For a few seconds before the plane hit the building, it looked like it might keep coming and hit us. It was pretty scary," Nedved said.

"Watching this happen before your eyes was unbelievable," Steve Tambellini, the team's media director, said Saturday night after the Canucks had lost to the Kings, 9-1. "The (bigger) plane was lit up like a lantern. At first, we didn't know if it was going to stop before it hit us. Everybody was pretty quiet after that."

Pat Quinn, who was about to coach his first game with the Canucks, suddenly had far larger concerns on his mind.

"Our pilot jammed on his brakes," Quinn said, "and came to a really hard stop."

Several players said their pilot then speeded up to get out of harm's way after informing his passengers that "we are going to try and get away from this problem."

By then, all on board were aware of it.

"You could hear people around you talking," Quinn said, "and things like, 'Look at that!' and 'Oh my God!'

"I was on the other side, but I could see a ball of fire through three or four windows. You could see passengers jumping off the tail and the wings."

None of the Canucks ever saw the commuter craft, nor did they detect any problem with the landing gear of the USAir plane.

"It's funny sometimes how you can all watch something and come out with different stories," Quinn said. "When we were standing around waiting for our bags, some players said they thought they saw the plane on fire before it landed, but we later found out that was not the case."

The thought that had the Canuck plane arrived before the USAir flight, it might have been on that fatal runway crossed the minds of many players.

"But for five minutes," Quinn said, "we might have been the ones. It makes you think how vulnerable you are when you see those poor people killed like that."

The Canucks didn't have much time for reflection. They were back at LAX Sunday morning to take a flight to Washington, D.C., for their next game. No one on the team expressed any fears of flying, but the horror of what they had seen Friday night remained the main topic of conversation all through their Sunday flight.

"Maybe inside some of the players are afraid, but nobody is saying anything," Tambellini said from his Washington hotel room Sunday night. "You do so much flying in our business, you just kind of have to go on."

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