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19 die as engines fail, plane crashes

Published Sep. 27, 2005

A charter plane carrying 19 people home from a gambling trip to Atlantic City, N.J., crashed in a ball of fire after having engine problems while trying to land Sunday.

Nearly 10 hours after the 11:48 a.m. crash, John Comey, executive assistant director for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said everybody on board had been killed.

"All the family members that gathered at the airport have been notified that no one survived the crash," he said.

Fiery wreckage was spotted in some woods about 9 miles south of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport.

It appeared both of the turbo prop's engines failed, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Tammy Jones.

The plane missed its first landing approach and crashed on its second attempt, George Black of the National Transportation Safety Board said in Washington.

"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," Black said.

Investigators were reviewing a transcript from air traffic controllers who spoke with the crew before the plane crashed.

On a portion of the tape aired by ABC News, one pilot says, "tell him we lost both engines."

The plane, a 1988 BA-31 Jet-stream that carried 17 passengers and two crew members, crashed about 2 miles into the woods in rain and fog. "Apparently there isn't much left in one piece," said Al Bardar, director for emergency management for Luzerne County.

Black said the BA-31 Jetstream has no history of problems.

The victims had left at 5 p.m. Saturday on a flight chartered by Caesars Atlantic City Hotel Casino, said Wy A. Gowell, the airport's assistant director. They were to return at 1:15 a.m. but fog kept the plane grounded in Farmingdale, N.Y., said Peter Hartt, spokesman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

With the flight delayed, the passengers spent the night at the casino. The plane left Atlantic City at about 10:30 a.m. Sunday and was scheduled to land in Wilkes-Barre an hour later, Hartt said. He said the plane was operated by Executive Airlines.

"It's a small, close community, and that's what I think makes it so hard," said Lackawanna County Commissioner Randy Castellani.