College choir group on Arkansas jet performed for Kosovars
June 3, 1999
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CNN) -- A college choir group returning from a European tour that included singing to Kosovar refugees was on the American Airlines jetliner that ran off the runway, broke into pieces and burst into flames.
The choir, known as The Oachita Singers, left about two weeks ago shortly after classes had ended for the semester.
The group toured Germany and Austria, with stops in Munich and Frankfurt in Germany, singing at schools and churches. The choir also performed for Kosovar Albanian refugees who were staying in temporary homes in Salzburg, Austria.
Dr. Charles Fuller, the choir director at Oachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, and his wife Cindy, also a music professor, had accompanied the 31 members on the trip -- described as the singing group's pinnacle tour of the year. During the semester, the choir sings mainly at churches and schools in Arkansas.
Twenty-five students were on the plane when it went off the runway; the other students had boarded different planes at the Dallas airport to go home for summer vacation.
One student, Kristin Maddox, remained hospitalized late Wednesday in serious condition with unspecified injuries. Another student, a senior with a church-music major, was unaccounted for -- and neither his parents nor the university have heard from him since the accident, officials said.
Fuller's 14-year-old daughter, Rachel, was in critical condition at Arkansas Children's Hospital with burns over 50 percent of her body and is expected to remain hospitalized for about two months.
The choir director and his wife as well as two other daughters -- Becky, 16, and Sarah, 14, -- escaped injury.
Fuller said he had been sitting by the emergency door reading a book when "we hit hard and we bounced." He said he helped several passengers get out once "the plane stopped moving," including an elderly man with a broken leg.
"We saw flames coming in and I just peeled off and headed for that door so I could get it open," he said. "I crawled out on the wing and just starting pulling people through."
David Ozmun, an assistant professor at OBU who had accompanied the choir group, said the plane stopped abruptly "as if the whole airplane just died" and he and others jumped off a burning wing.
"The wing was on fire near the fuselage and I just got out there and I knew I had to just jump off," said Ozmun.
At the university, a small liberal arts school with 1,600 students about 65 miles south of Little Rock, the campus was filled with a range of emotions as word of the accident spread and that their students were aboard.
"When we first hear about it, it was just shock and disbelief," said Deborah Root, an assistant professor of mass communications. "We're just so thankful that so many did survive."
Investigators probe scene of American Airlines crash
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