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14 Feared Killed in Virginia Plane Crash : Commuter Airliner Hits Side of Mountain; No Survivors Found

Associated Press

A commuter airplane carrying 14 persons crashed into the side of a cloud-shrouded mountain in Shenandoah National Park on Monday, and there were no signs of survivors, state police said.

The crew of a Marine helicopter sighted the downed Henson Airlines Beech 99 around 7 p.m. about five miles east of the Shenandoah Valley Airport, which the plane was approaching on an instrument landing, officials said.

The twin-engine, propeller-driven craft, which had left Baltimore-Washington International Airport as Flight 1517, was last contacted by radar at 10:20 a.m., said Dick Stafford, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.

‘Disappeared Off Radar’

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The plane, with 12 passengers and a crew of two, “disappeared off radar while on approach to the airport,” said Stafford. “The visibility was two miles in fog, and the weather was overcast.”

Two doctors were lowered from the Marine helicopter to the wreckage and reported that a preliminary survey of the scene indicated all aboard the plane died, said Mike Chumbley, Henson’s manager at the airport.

The wreckage was on Trayfoot Mountain, which has an elevation of about 3,200 feet, and was more than a mile from the nearest road, Townsend said.

Authorities were unable to immediately reach the site, but several state police officers were trying to hike to the wreckage, which lay on a steep incline on a ridge, said Lt. G.M. Morris.

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First Fatal Accident

The accident was Henson’s first involving injury or loss of life since the carrier, a subsidiary of Piedmont Airlines, began operating in 1931, said airline vice president John Presburg.

Presburg, speaking at a news conference at the Baltimore-Washington airport, said the plane was making an instrument approach under a 1,000-foot cloud ceiling. He added that was “not necessarily bad weather, but it obscured the tops of the ridges.”

Presburg said there apparently was a fire aboard the aircraft but added that officials did not know whether it occurred before or after the crash in western Virginia.

He refused to speculate on the cause of the crash.

Passengers’ Names Withheld

Presburg, noting preliminary indications that there were no survivors, said passengers’ names would be withheld while relatives were notified.

The plane was the same type that crashed near Auburn, Me., on Aug. 25, killing eight persons, including Samantha Smith, the schoolgirl who had visited the Soviet Union as a peace envoy and was to have starred in a TV series this season.

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The airport, which is 1,201 feet above sea level, has one runway 6,002 feet long and is equipped to guide aircraft to full instrument landings, said Ted Alman, a planner with the Virginia Department of Aviation in Richmond.

Planes are diverted from Shenandoah if the cloud ceiling drops below 1,484 feet, said Alman.


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