Pilots killed after plane crashes in Jefferson City

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A plane that plunged to a fatal crash after both of its jet engines failed had aborted a scheduled takeoff earlier in the day because of an apparent problem with a mechanical system that distributes engine heat throughout the plane.

Federal investigators said Friday evening that the regional jet affiliated with Northwest Airlines had aborted a scheduled flight Thursday from Little Rock, Ark., after an indicator light went on for its bleed-air system.

After undergoing maintenance, the 50-seat Pinnacle Airlines plane was being flown without passengers to Minneapolis when its engines failed and it crashed late Thursday night into a residential area in Missouri's capital city, killing the two pilots. No residents were hurt.

Jason Turner, a spokesman for the Jefferson City Fire Department, said the plane appeared to have crashed into "a garage of some type," which was destroyed, about two miles from the city's airport, just north of U.S. 50 a few miles east of downtown.

While noting the previous mechanical problem, National Transportation Safety Board member Carol Carmody said: "We're not going to speculate on what the causes are" for the crash.

A bleed-air system pulls hot, compressed air from the engines to heat other components of the plane. An airplane indicator light typically signifies a problem.

Less than 24-hours after the crash, NTSB officials already had made a preliminary scan of the plane's cockpit voice recorder and air traffic data.

The plane reached 41,000 feet before it went into an aerodynamic stall and lost power from one engine. At 13,000 feet, the second engine quit working. The last contact that air traffic controllers had with the plane was at 9,000 feet when a pilot reported an airport beacon in sight, Carmody said.

The crash site is about two miles from the Jefferson City airport.

Pinnacle Airlines, based in Memphis, Tenn., identified the two deceased pilots as Capt. Jesse Rhodes and First Officer Peter Cesarz but did not release their ages or hometowns. Carmody said earlier Friday that the pilots' bodies had not been recovered, but by looking at the cockpit there's "no doubt" the pilots died.

The plane, bought new by Pinnacle in May 2000, had flown 10,161 hours and had no major problems in inspections required by the Federal Aviation Administration, Pinnacle said. Rhodes joined the airline in February 2003 after working for another regional airline and had about 6,700 flight hours. Cesarz had worked for the company since June but details of his flight experience were not available Friday, said Philip Reed, Pinnacle's vice president of marketing.

Carmody said 14 NTSB investigators were on the scene and expect to be there several days. They planned to move the engines -- one of which was still attached to the upside-down fuselage, the other of which broke off and crashed through a fence -- to an airport hanger Saturday for closer evaluation. Authorities also had recovered the flight data recorder and hoped to begin analyzing it by Monday.

At the crash scene, the cockpit was separated by about 70 yards from a large chunk of the fuselage and was so shattered that it could be difficult to recover the plane's instruments, Carmody said.

Throughout Friday, nearby residents came with awe to scene, marveling at how the plane had managed to miss houses to its left, right and rear. Across the street was an untouched apartment complex.

"Ooh boy, it's lucky it didn't hit the houses. They'll be thanking their God," said neighbor Kathryn Hajaved, 72, viewing the damage in daylight for the first time.

Associated Press newswoman Kelly Wiese contributed to this report.

On the Net:

Pinnacle Airlines: http://www.nwairlink.com

NTSB: http://www.ntsb.gov

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