8 killed in Owatonna plane crash

Published 9:15 am Friday, August 1, 2008

Investigators with the National Transportation and Safety Board planned to continue sifting through the wreckage of a small plane Friday, looking for clues as to why it crashed near a regional airport in Minnesota, killing all eight people on board.

The victims included two pilots and six passengers, all casino and construction executives who were heading to this city about 60 miles south of the Twin Cities for a business meeting.

The Raytheon Hawker 800 went down Thursday morning, shortly after severe weather had moved through southern Minnesota. The weather conditions, as well as the plane’s structure, its systems and other factors, are all being examined by the NTSB, said John Lovell, the agency’s investigator in charge.

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A cockpit voice recorder and a flight management system were recovered and sent to the NTSB lab in Washington to be analyzed.

The charter jet, flying from Atlantic City, N.J., to Owatonna, a town of 25,000, went down in a cornfield northwest of Degner Regional Airport, Sheriff Gary Ringhofer said. The wreckage was not visible from the airport, and roadways leading to the site were blocked off. Little could be seen from a hill in the distance.

The debris was scattered 500 feet beyond the airport’s runway. Late Thursday, the Dakota County coroner was on the scene working to identify victims.

Seven people were found dead at the site of the crash, which happened around 9:45 a.m. Thursday. One victim died a short time later at an area hospital, said Doug Neville, Department of Public Safety spokesman.

Two other people who were supposed to be on board did not get on the flight, Neville said.

Atlantic City Mayor Scott Evans said those on board the flight from New Jersey included two high-ranking executives from Revel Entertainment, which is building a $2 billion hotel-casino project in Atlantic City, and an employee of Tishman Construction. Two executives of APG International were also on board, that company said.

The executives were heading to Owatonna for a business meeting with Viracon Inc., a glass manufacturing company that earlier this year was awarded a contract to supply glass to the World Trade Center replacement project.

Authorities were still working on identifying the victims. But some of the names were made public on Thursday.

Charter company East Coast Jets confirmed in a statement that the two pilots were its employees: Clark Keefer of Bethlehem, Pa., and Dan D’Ambrosio of Hellertown, Pa.

A spokeswoman with APG International, a Glassboro, N.J. company that specializes in glass facades, said two executives were on board: Marc Rosenberg, the company’s chief operating officer, and Alan Barnett, its assistant project manager.

“Losing Marc and Alan — who have been so important to this company and to me personally — is extremely difficult,” said Edward Z. Zaucha, APG’s chairman. “I speak for all of us when I say that we are in total shock. This has been a sad, sad day for all of us.”

Another passenger was Karen Sandland, 44, a project manager on the Revel casino project who worked out of Tishman Construction’s Newark, N.J. office, company spokesman Bud Perrone said. She was the only Tishman employee on board, said Richard M. Kielar, the company’s senior vice president.

Revel CEO Kevin DeSanctis issued a statement Thursday night mourning the loss of employees from his company, and the others. DeSanctis did not identify the victims or say how many of his company’s employees died.

The airport lies alongside Interstate 35 as it skirts Owatonna’s western edge. The airport’s Web site describes it as “ideal for all classes of corporate aircraft use” with an all-weather instrument landing system.

Neville said the airport has no control tower, and pilots communicate with controllers in Minneapolis.

The crash happened shortly after severe weather moved through parts of southern Minnesota. An hour before the accident, a 72 mph wind gust was reported in Owatonna, according to the National Weather Service.

Witnesses said the worst of the storm had passed, and the sky was clearing. It was raining lightly at the time of the crash. The weather service reported that by 9:35 a.m., winds had quieted to 5 mph, with visibility greater than 10 miles in the Owatonna area, though there was a thunderstorm about five miles from the airport. Its observations are taken in 20-minute intervals, making the 9:35 a.m. readings the last before the crash.