U.S. Commerce Secretary In Plane Crash In Balkans
DUBROVNIK, Croatia (CNN, April 3) -- Search and rescue teams found four bodies tonight in the wreckage of a plane that crashed with U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and other passengers aboard.
Rescuers also found the plane's tail along the coast between the Adriatic port of Dubrovnik and Cilipi airport. Croatian officials said the bodies were of three men and a woman but were not identified. There was no evidence of hostile action against the craft.
Defense Department officials said there may have been as many as 27 passengers aboard, in addition to the crew. The search efforts were being hampered by rain and winds gusting up to 20 knots per hour (23 mph) and rough seas.
Brown, 54, was flying on the Air Force T-43 plane from Tuzla, Bosnia, to the port city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. An airport official said the plane disappeared from radar screens at 7:50 a.m. EST, about five minutes before it was to land. The Air Force plane, similar to a Boeing 737 commercial jet, also carried Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton on their recent visit to the area.
Brown was visiting the region with 12 chief executive officers from American companies. White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said it was not known who had accompanied Brown on the flight.
"We want to make sure we know for certain before we say anything about it," McCurry said.
Earlier, McCurry confirmed that pieces of a plane had been spotted floating in the water off the coast of Dubrovnik. (380K WAV sound)
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman told CNN the plane crashed on a mountainside near the sea and that he had sent confirmation to President Bill Clinton.
President Clinton canceled his schedule to monitor developments and visited Brown's family at their Washington home. (363K WAV sound)
In a speech to Commerce Department employees, Clinton praised Brown as a dedicated leader and "a magnificent life force (330K WAV sound)."
"He was one of the best advisers and ablest people I ever knew and he was very, very good at everything he ever did," Clinton said. "Whether he was the commerce secretary or a civil rights leader or something else, he was always out there just giving it his all.
"He always believed that his mission in life was to put peoples' dreams within their reach, if they were willing to work for it and believe in themselves," Clinton said (792K WAV sound).
Attorney General Janet Reno announced the news about the crash at a Justice Department conference and explained that the president had had to call off his scheduled speech because of the incident.
"I think we should all pray at this point," Reno said.
The first word that Brown's plane was possibly missing came from Peter Galbraith, U.S. ambassador to Croatia. He alerted the State Department after the plane was three hours late.
Brown had been in the northeastern Bosnian city of Tuzla during a three-day visit to the region. He was leading a high-level American business delegation representing 15 companies specializing in infrastructure, transport, energy, tourism and financial services.
Reporters in Dubrovnik who were awaiting Brown's arrival at the seaside airport were escorted by police back into the city.
Dubrovnik is a port city and tourist center on the southern Adriatic coast about 300 miles south of the capital city of Zagreb.
The State Department has released a telephone number for families of those involved with Brown's trip to call: 202- 647-6614.
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