Ten bodies pulled
from U.S. plane crash

Commerce Secretary Ron Brown feared dead


April 4, 1996
Web posted at: 12:45 a.m. EST

VELJI DOL, Croatia (CNN) -- Amid driving rain, heavy fog, and the threat of land mines, 10 bodies have been pulled from the wreckage of the twin engine U.S. Air Force T-43 that had been carrying U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and 32 others. The plane crashed in rocky terrain in Croatia Wednesday. All 27 passengers on board and the six-member crew were feared dead.

'Ron Brown was one of the best advisers and one of the ablest people I knew.  And he was very, very good at everything he ever did.'      -- President Clinton

Reporters at the scene said the plane lay on its belly, which had been burned, on the top of a small hill near Dubrovnik in Velji Dol.

The State Department said Wednesday afternoon the government's formal position is that Brown is missing. Officials said they would release the names of those on board Thursday.

Brown in Bosnia

Croatian police and U.S. soldiers' efforts to find the bodies have been hampered by the severe weather and terrain and by the sprinkling of land mines throughout the area from the 3 1/2 year Balkan war.

The group of business executives was on a business development trip in the former Yugoslavia. (related story)

Croatia's ambassador to the United States, Miomir Zuzul, told Associated Press Television in Dubrovnik that 10 bodies had been recovered. Croatian radio also reported that seven men and three women had been found.


Lt. Gen. Howell Estes, U.S. Joint Chiefs operations director, said at a briefing Wednesday there was no evidence of any hostile fire or an explosion in the area. He said the weather was very bad, but would not speculate further on the cause of the crash or why the plane was off course when it crashed.

plane specs

Estes said that the plane, the equivalent to a commercial Boeing 737, took off from Tuzla at about 7 a.m. EST and was expected at the Cilipi airport near Dubrovnik at about 7:45 a.m. The plane was attempting to make an instrument approach using a radio beacon at the airport when tower contact was lost. (610K QuickTime movie)

The crash occurred in rough weather 1.8 miles (3 kilometers) at the northwestern end of the runway on a 2,300 foot ridge. According to Croatian security forces, the aircraft disappeared from radar screens at 2:52 p.m. (7:52 a.m. EST) between the tiny island of Kalamota, a few miles southwest of Dubrovnik, and the Cilipi airport.

Residents of Velji Dol said the plane crashed during one of the area's worst storms in decades.

A spokesman for the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, where the T-43 is based, said the plane, a T-43 from the 86th airborne, is same one that first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton flew on during her recent trip to Europe.

Solemn Clinton eulogizes Brown

Bill and Hillary Clinton

President Clinton addressed Commerce Department employees earlier Wednesday. He said he did not know whether Brown was confirmed dead, but eulogized his friend nonetheless.

Before he appeared before the nearly 700 Commerce Department staff, the president had gone to Brown's home to comfort his wife, Alma, and children, Michael and Tracey.

He said he had asked Alma Brown what to say to members of the Commerce Department, and was told to say that her husband was proud of his job and that he had fought for the Commerce Department. Clinton said Mrs. Brown also asked him to say that now, the president will fight for the department.

The crowd responded with long, loud applause.

The president talked about a hopeful Ron Brown who approached his job as secretary with a "we can do more" attitude. He said Brown was excited about his trip to the Balkans and that he was ready to use the power of the American economy to help the flagging economy there after 3 1/2 years of war.

"Ron Brown was one of the best advisers and one of the ablest people I knew. And he was very, very good at everything he ever did," Clinton said.

Brown, 54, became the first African-America chairman of the Democratic Party in 1990. He was instrumental in organizing Clinton's 1992 election campaign.

Clinton said a colleague recalled one of Brown's favorite passages from the Bible from the book of Isaiah: "They who wait upon the Lord shall have their strength renewed. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They will run and not grow weary they will walk and faint not."

The president closed his address to the staff with a moment of silence.

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