Albuquerque, NM Plane Crashes At City Airport, May 1972
NINE KILLED IN PLANE CRASH AT CITY AIRPORT.
MOON MISSION SCIENTIST DIES.
A twin-engine aircraft chartered by the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratories (LASL) crashed on takeoff from the International Airport Friday, killing all nine persons aboard, including a leading biomedical scientist who consulted on the Apollo moon missions.
Witnesses said the Beechcraft Queen-Air, chartered to shuttle LASL personnel between Albuquerque and Los Alamos, apparently lost power in one engine and nosedived into an open field south of the control tower.
Police said all eight passengers and the pilot were killed instantly when the craft hit the ground and burst into flames.
Among the victims was DR. WRIGHT H. LANGHAM, 60, associate division leader for biomedical research at LASL. LANGHAM, who had been with the laboratory since 1944, was a world renowned plutonium scientist.
Other victims, all technicians or staff members at the Labs, were identified as EUGENE TEATUM, 37; DONALD LARSON, 46; BRUCE BEAN, 28; JOHNNIE GALLEGOS, 41; RICHARD NEITHAMMER, 39; WILLIAM FRAY, 40; and JOHN GILL, 43. The pilot was identified as RICHARD T. ZITTEL of Ross Aviation.
All the victims, except GILL, resided at Los Alamos. GILL was a resident of Arroyo Seco.
CLYDE SHARRER, city aviation director said the plane, enroute to Los Alamos, lost an engine on takeoff and crashed while attempting to return to the runway.
SHARRER said the aircraft, capable of carrying 10 passengers, including the pilot, banked sharply seconds before the crash. The impact scattered wreckage in all directions for 150 yards.
The plane, which had turned in a northeasterly direction at the time of the crash, narrowly missed a shed at the Kirtland AFB Riding Stables, about a mile south of the Federal Aviation Administration's control tower. The crash occurred at 1:37 p.m.
The main point of impact was about 30 feet from a corral containing horses belonging to the Kirtland AFB Riding Club.
The left wing tip appeared to have struck less than eight feet away from an empty shed.
Capt. ROSS WEIGMAN of the Kirtland AFB Public Information Office said witnesses at the scene reported "the airplane was flying very low, then it just nose dived in and burst into flames on impact."
The Ross Aviation Beechcraft, which is based in Albuquerque, makes regular flights to Los Alamos.
The bodies, some charred beyond recognition, were not removed from the wreckage until 4:20 p.m. because of an initial decision by authorities at the scene to await the arrival of a representative from the National Transportation Safety Board, who was flown in from Denver.
However, crews from two ambulance units were told to remove the bodies shortly before the NTSB representative was due to arrive.
The victims, some still strapped to what was left of their seats, were located in the immediate area of what appeared to be the fuselage. It took the two ambulance crews about 25 minutes to remove the bodies, some of which had to be untangled from the wreckage. The bodies were taken to Strong-Thorne Mortuary.
EUGENE PETERS, assistant chief of the Albuquerque Air Traffic Center, said high winds might have affected the airplane if it did lose one of its engines.
"The winds were not extremely high, but were up to 31 knots," he said. "If both engines were operating there should have been no trouble."
The immediate area of the crash was roped off, pending an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The crash was the worst air disaster in the city since Dec. 5, 1969, when 11 persons -- returning to Texas from a Las Vegas, Nev., holiday -- were killed when their plane crashed into an open field north of the city.
LANGHAM became known internationally for his expertise and was flown to Spain in 1967 after the Palomeras nuclear weapons accident.
He worked actively on the radiation effect of nuclear weapons, effects of massive radiation on animals, potential hazards of worldwide radioactive fallout from nuclear tests, use of radioisotopes in biology and medicine and radiation problems associated with space flights.
LANGHAM was a graduate of Oklahoma A & M College, Oklahoma State University and the University of Colorado.
Albuquerque Journal New Mexico 1972-05-20