Investigators find no immediate link in same-day plane crashes

Friday, April 11, 2003

SWANTON, Ohio -- Federal investigators said their first look at a charter plane company that suffered two crashes on the same day found no immediate evidence it was anything but a coincidence.

"At the moment they are being handled as separate events," said National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz.

Toledo-based Grand Aire Inc. voluntarily suspended all flights Wednesday, a day after its two Dassault Aviation Falcon 20s crashed about five hours apart, one in Toledo and the other 400 miles away in St. Louis. Three pilots were killed in the Toledo accident.

The Toledo crew made no distress call. NTSB investigator Bob Hancock said that plane aborted its first landing attempt, but he did not know why. He said the plane, built in 1968, had no flight data recorder.

The crew on the St. Louis flight had warned air-traffic controllers that they were running out of fuel, and purposely flew away from neighborhoods as their plane went down.

The timing of the crashes will likely lead the safety board to inspect Grand Aire's operating history more closely, said Susan Coughlin, a former NTSB vice chairwoman who now is president of the Aviation Safety Alliance.

The Toledo plane went down first, crashing and burning about a mile short of the runway at Toledo Express Airport.

The St. Louis plane splashed down in the Mississippi River, near the Gateway Arch. Pilots Saleem Iqbal, 34, and Mohammed Saleh, 44, remained hospitalized Thursday, both in fair condition.

The crashes were the fifth and sixth for Grand Aire since 2000, according to NTSB records. Five involved the Falcon 20s, which account for half of company's 26 planes.

No one was killed in the other Falcon 20 crashes. The company, which carries both cargo and passengers, had a fatal crash last year involving another type of plane.

Grand Aire delivers auto parts and other cargo and operates a charter passenger service. It has about 50 employees and 10 to 15 flights a day from Toledo.

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