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Clues Sought in Fatal Plane Crash in Torrance

September 23, 1997|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As work crews hoisted the wreckage of a small plane out of the top floors of a three-story medical office building in Torrance on Monday, crash investigators sifted through the rubble below in search of clues to a puzzling crash that killed four people.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator, Thomas H. Wilcox, said the cause of the crash was not yet evident--although witnesses reported that the plane apparently stalled just moments after taking off Sunday morning from Torrance Memorial Airport across the street.

Meanwhile, officials from the Los Angeles County coroner's office said Monday that identification papers gleaned from the ashes and rubble offered a mystery: five sets of papers but only four bodies.

Capt. Dean Gilmour of the coroner's office said officials were nonetheless certain that only four people, two men and two women, were killed when the four-seat Beechcraft Sundowner slammed into the office building about 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

All four may be from Japan, he said, citing "the various forms of identification we've discovered and contacts we've made." Names of the dead were not released Monday because relatives had not yet been notified.

The plane hit the corner of one of eight buildings in the Skypark office complex just north and a bit west of the airport. The medical offices, in the 23400 block of Madison Street, were closed because it was Sunday.

Wilcox said the plane was heavily loaded with the four adults and a "large volume of fuel." It appeared to be "close to the maximum weight but not exceeding it," he said.

Witnesses reported that the plane seemed to stall, then spun and plummeted into the building, Wilcox said. It ripped through the top two floors of the three-story building, broke into pieces and erupted in flames.

What was left of the plane was trucked Monday to a hangar near the Compton airport. Investigators will look through the pieces for "any indication of a mechanical failure or malfunction," Wilcox said.

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