First deadly U.S. airline crash in more than a year

Crash in N.C. leaves 21 dead


The charred remains of a commuter plane are shown next to a US Airways hangar at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday morning.

(GERRY PATE/N.Y. Times Regional Newspapers)
Published: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 12:12 a.m.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A commuter plane taking off in clear weather Wednesday veered sharply back toward the airport, hit a hangar and crashed in flames, killing all 21 people aboard.
The cause of the nation's first deadly airline accident in more than a year was not immediately clear. Aviation officials said the pilot reported an unspecified emergency to the tower just before the crash.
US Airways Express Flight 5481 hit the corner of the hangar at full throttle moments after leaving Charlotte-Douglas International Airport for Greer, S.C., officials said. No one on the ground was injured.
Dee Addison, who works at an airport business 500 yards away, ran outside after hearing a boom.
"It was like a frenzy. People were running out of the (hangar)," she said. "At the time we didn't know a plane had actually crashed. It didn't even look like a plane. It was totally demolished."
Heavy smoke poured from the wreckage for hours, so thick "you could taste it in your mouth," Addison said. The US Airways hangar was scorched and battered.
The Beech 1900 twin-engine turboprop was carrying 19 passengers and two crew members. It took off to the south, then cut back toward the airport, airport director Jerry Orr said.
The pilot, Capt. Katie Leslie, contacted the tower to report an emergency, said Greg Martin, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman. But the transmission was cut short and the emergency wasn't identified, he said.
The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were recovered and are being analyzed, said John Goglia, a National Transportation Safety Board member.
"Both were burned, but it does appear they were in decent shape," Goglia said.
The FBI said there were no immediate indications of terrorism.
Goglia said investigators, though, will consider every possible cause, and will review the pilot performance, maintenance records, the plane's structure and the flight's passengers and freight.
"At this point, nothing is out of the question," he said.
Goglia also said bolts and small pieces of debris were found on the runway after the crash, but the NTSB hasn't determined if they came from the crashed plane.
The weather at the airport was clear at the time, with winds of 8 mph, said Rodney Hinson, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The flight originated in Lynchburg, Va., and was bound for the Greenville-Spartanburg airport in Greer, only 80 miles away from Charlotte. Goglia said none of the passengers started their trip in Charlotte, though some may have boarded there after transferring from other flights.
Goglia said victims' bodies were being recovered from the site Wednesday evening, and families were starting to arrive in Charlotte to identify their relatives.
Businessman Buddy Puckett of Greenville, S.C., was awaiting the arrival of a friend and client, Gary Gezzer of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He sent a co-worker to the Greer airport to pick up Gezzer, only to learn he had been killed.
Puckett said he would fly to Florida to be with Gezzer's family. "He was not only a client, he was also a very, very good friend," Puckett said.
Two Clemson University students were among the crash victims. Sreenivasa Reddy Badam, 24, and Ganeshram Sreenivasan, 23, both of India, were graduate students in computer science.
Chemical and manufacturing company W.R. Grace said three of its employees were killed. Paul Stidham, 46; Richard Lyons, 56; and Joseph Spiak, 46, were traveling to a company facility in Enoree, S.C., according to a statement from the Columbia, Md.-based firm.
Two brothers who worked at a hardware store on the Bahamas island of Abaco were en route to a convention. Robin and Nicholas Albury and Robin's daughter, Caitlin, 13, were killed in the crash, their family said.
The plane, built in 1996, was operated by Mesa Air Lines under the US Airways Express name. It had flown 15,000 hours and performed 21,000 takeoffs and landings.
FAA records show the aircraft was involved in five in-flight incidents that the NTSB said could affect safe operations. In one incident, the right engine lost oil pressure in November 2000 and the crew had to shut it down. The plane landed safely and the engine was replaced.
The aircraft also reported eight service difficulties, most of them minor. In November, the company reported a leaking fuel pump that was replaced. In May, a hydraulic power pack was replaced after the left main landing gear wouldn't retract during takeoff.
The FAA has issued nearly two dozen airworthiness directives on the 1900-D since 1994, warning of problems that must be addressed if found in an aircraft.
A maintenance alert for twin-engine Beech 1900 turboprops issued in August said attachment bolts for the vertical stabilizer had been found loose on one plane. And a directive issued in November warned that screws could come loose and interfere with the horizontal stabilizer.
There have been eight fatal accidents involving Beech 1900s in 40 years, according to NTSB records. The most recent was Dec. 9 when a private flight crashed in Eagleton, Ark., killing three people.
The Charlotte crash came after a year in which there were no deaths aboard a passenger or cargo airliner in the United States. The last fatal crash was that of an American Airlines jetliner in New York City on Nov. 12, 2001, in which 265 people died.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top