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NTSB Begins Investigation Into Charter Plane Crash in Pennsylvania Which Killed All 19 Onboard

Aired May 21, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with a team of U.S. safety investigators who are now on their way to northeast Pennsylvania, site of Sunday morning's charter plane crash. At least 19 people died after their twin-engine Jetstream 31 turbo prop went down in a wooded area just short of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. The plane's crew apparently had reported problems during its second landing attempt.

More now on Sunday's accident and the investigation, here's CNN's Carl Rochelle -- Carl.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Andria, the weather was really bad in the area at the time of the crash. Clouds low and misty skies, when the Jetstream 31 turbo-prop charter plane crashed and burned on the ground in about nine miles from the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Airport. George Black is the National Transportation Safety Board member who has been sent to oversee the crash investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BLACK, NTSB: The airplane was attempting an instrument landing system approach to runway four at Wilkes-Barre. It missed its first approach and was attempting a second approach when the accident occurred. There is some indication on the air traffic control tapes that they were encountering engine problems during the first approach, and those continued into the second attempt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROCHELLE: Because the weather was so bad at the time of the crash it is unclear whether they had to go around, miss that first approach because of bad weather or because of the problems reported with the engine. Now, the tapes of transcript of conversations between the tower and the aircraft indicate that the crew told the tower that they were losing power in both engines.

Sources told CNN that they lost power in both engines, were able to get power back in one engine at one point. But apparently, that other engine also quit at some time. They had missed the first approach, an instrument landing approach -- there is a little bit of an explainer to it.

It just means they are flying with electronic guidance, and the guidance is very precise in a instrument landing system approach, an ILS system approach -- and they flew down to the runway. You have about 300 feet before you have -- off the ground when you have to stop the approach if you don't see the airport in sight, and that's what happened the first time around. The second time around, of course, they crashed.

Now, CNN talked to Executive Jet -- Executive Airlines, it's a New York-based charter company that owns the aircraft, they told us that nothing they have identified would contribute to the cause of the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board says there is a cockpit voice recorder on board, they don't believe there is a flight data recorder on board, but they'll be trying to recover that as well as the engines and the fuel system to learn what caused the crash and why.

I'm Carl Rochelle, CNN, reporting live from Washington.

BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Carl.

The wreckage was first spotted in a wooded area in the Pennsylvania township of Bear Creek, this was shortly before 1:00 Sunday afternoon. Crews say they found a ball of fire at the scene and not much else. Fire rescuers, state police and emergency medical workers have since converged on the scene.

And CNN's Deborah Feyerick is also there and she joins us now with an update -- Deborah.

FEYERICK: Well, Brian, what we know is that the families of the passengers are at the airport. They are being briefed and they are also receiving grief counseling. We know that this was a local group, about 19 people with the crew. They had chartered this twin-engine turbo-prop plane for a few days of fun in Atlantic City. Well, it crashed just before noon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER HARTT, N.J. TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY: Typically, this airline is flying casino patrons to and from Atlantic City. It serves obviously the Scranton area and some other areas in the region. Our thoughts and our prayers are all with the family members of the people who are on the plane. I think that's the primary concern of everybody who works here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FEYERICK: The team from the NTSB and the FAA arrived just about an hour ago. We saw one official just a few moments, he is here at the staging area. Lights have been set up in the area so that these investigators can work through the night. We are told that this is not a very large debris field, but it is in an area that is very remote, very woody and also on a very steep incline, so that's going to make their job a whole lot more difficult. Now, when firefighter arrived, the chief tells us that the plane was on fire and had to be extinguished. The crash was near game land, which is an area where people hike or hunt. But officials tell us that there were no witnesses. Right now, investigators trying to piece together what happened through conversations between the tower and the pilot.

Reporting live, Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Pennsylvania.

NELSON: Thank you, Deborah.

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