NTSB: No cause ruled out in crash of chartered jet
MONTROSE ” Federal investigators plan to review the maintenance records and the background of the flight crew of a chartered jet that crashed here over the weekend, killing three people ” including a teenage son of NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol and his wife, actress Susan Saint James.
National Transportation Safety Board lead investigator Arnold Scott said Tuesday that the examination of the jet’s records and the crew’s past were routine, and that he hasn’t specifically targeted, nor ruled out, any potential causes for the crash.
The plane carrying Ebersol and two of his sons skidded off the end of the runway, ripped apart and exploded Sunday morning while attempting to take off in light snow and fog from Montrose Regional Airport, just outside this southwest Colorado town.
Edward “Teddy” Ebersol, 14, was killed after being ejected from the Canadair CL-601 Challenger and crushed by the wreckage, Montrose County Coroner Mark Young said. Dental records flown in Connecticut were used to positively identify the boy, whose body was pulled from underneath the charred fuselage of the jet Monday evening.
The pilot, 50-year-old Luis Alberto Polanco of the Dominican Republic, and flight attendant Warren T. Richardson III, 36, of Coral Gables, Fla., were also thrown from the plane and died instantly from the impact, Young said. The Federal Aviation Administration will conduct toxicology tests, he said.
Ebersol and his oldest son, Charlie, 21, remained hospitalized in Grand Junction but were expected to make a full recovery, NBC said. NBC’s Denver affiliate, KUSA-TV, reported Ebersol suffered broken ribs, a broken sternum and had fluid in his lungs, while Charlie suffered a broken hand and had a sore back.
The co-pilot, identified by Denver newspapers as Eric Wicksell, 30, of Daytona Beach, Fla., was in critical condition at a burn unit in Denver.
Teddy Ebersol was the youngest son of Ebersol, 57, and Saint James, 58, star of the former CBS sitcom “Kate and Allie.” Saint James and the couple’s middle child, 18-year-old Willie, were not on the flight.
“We will miss Teddy, our sweet boy, forever,” the Ebersols said in a statement issued Tuesday.
“While our grief is unfathomable, we are so proud of our Charlie, who pulled his father from the flames. That anyone was able to survive this horrible accident is a miracle, and all of us will forever be inspired by Charlie’s courage and bravery,” the statement said.
Investigators on Wednesday planned to continue examining the crash site and interviewing witnesses, said NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway. He said wreckage also could be transported to a hangar in Greeley the NTSB often uses in crash investigations.
The plane wasn’t de-iced before taking off but Scott wouldn’t speculate on what role, if any, that may have played in the crash. He did say that the circumstances of the accident occurred under similar conditions as a crash of another Challenger jet in Birmingham, England in January 2002.
That crash, which killed five people, happened in freezing temperatures. That plane was not de-iced either and it banked heavily seconds after takeoff and burst into flames as it crashed.
In Sunday’s crash, investigators found skipping marks on the ground, and if the jet became airborne before the crash, it wasn’t for long, Scott said. He also said the plane’s engine appeared to be working at the time of the crash.
Representatives of the plane’s manufacturer, Bombardier, Inc., arrived Tuesday to help examine the jack screws that raise and lower the wing flaps.
The plane’s cockpit voice recorder was taken to an NTSB lab in Washington, where analysts were reviewing the pilots’ final words.
Scott declined to discuss the contents but said the 31-minute recording was in good condition.
Jet Alliance of Millville, N.J., whose sister company, Air Castle Corp., operated the charter flight, said Polanco was a 20-year veteran pilot with more than 12,000 hours of flying time, including 900 hours in a Challenger.
He is survived by a wife and three sons who live in the Dominican Republic.
Leandro Polanco, 18, said his father was an excellent pilot.
“I always felt safe with him,” he said Tuesday from his parents’ home in Santo Domingo. “I want to study aviation like him,” he said.
The families of the crew members were allowed to visit the crash site for about 10 minutes on Tuesday. About 60 miles away in Grand Junction, the Ebersol family remained out of public view, while a trio of sport utility vehicles shuttled an entourage between a downtown hotel and the hospital where Dick and Charlie Ebersol were recovering.
Associated Press Writer Peter Prengaman contributed to this report.
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