Morrisville, NC Commuter Plane Crashes, Feb 1988


Morrisville, N.C. (AP) -- A commuter plane that plowed through a stand of trees just after taking off, killing 12, was only three years old and had just been inspected, the company president said Saturday.
American Eagle commuter Flight 3378 had just taken off from Raleigh-Durham Airport at Morrisville, N.C., on a flight to Richmond, Va., when it disappeared from radar and crashed about 3,000 feet from the runway, officials said.
"It sounded like a blast or something ...," said Mary H. Ward, who lives in a mobile home about three miles from the airport. "It wasn't too awful loud. It was kind of muffled."
"The airplane is completely disintegrated," deputy airport director R. C. Shackleford said Saturday.
The plane apparently skimmed just over the surface of Beir Lake, a flood-control reservoir that laps around the end of the runway, and hit an earthen bank before crashing through tall pine trees.
Some trees were broken off and others were skinned as much as 200 yards beyond the lake. Shackleford said the wreckage, with none of the pieces more than 8 feet long, was scattered over about an acre.
"We don't know what happened," Shackleford said. "Anything anybody tells you or anything you deduce is pure speculation."
"There was no indication to the tower that the plane was in any danger prior to takeoff," said Teresa Damiano, public affairs manager for the airport.
An investigative team from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived this morning from Washington, and two officials with the State Medical Examiner's office in Chapel Hill were on the scene, Ms. Damiano said.
Donald Paschall, chief of airport security, said the crash was reported at 9:27 p.m. Friday by a guard at a nearby construction site.
"He just reported a loud crash and a ball of fire," Paschall said.
The victims were:
Pilot Capt. WALTER COLE.
1st Officer KATHY DIGAN.
LIBBY BOGITSH, husband and wife of Nashville.
TERRY BOWER, Richmond, Va.
MIKE GRINDLE, Richmond, Va.
JOHN OLIVER, Richmond, Va.
DICK ROSS, Richmond, Va.
MARCIA FERRIS, Richmond, Va.
HENRY LEWIS, U. S. Army stationed at Fort Lee in Richmond.
CHRIS WELLS, Raleigh area.
ROGER WILCOX, of Florida.
The deaths were the first fatalities in eight years of operation by AVAir, American Eagle's parent company, said Larry Rednour, the company's executive vice president.
"Our shock is all that much greater because this was a seasoned crew operating their first flight of the day," Glenn Schaab, president and chief executive officer of AVAir, said in a statement issued Saturday. "They were in a plane less than 3 years old, which had undergone scheduled maintenance and inspection this week."
The airplane was a Swearingen SW-4 twin-engine turboprop.
A twin-engine plane of the same type crashed last month in Colorado, killing nine people on a ski vacation. The plane was not required to have cockpit voice recorders or flight data recorders, said James P. Burke, a member of the NTSB investigative team assigned to that crash.

Daily Intelligencer Doylestown Pennsylvania 1988-02-21