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Wellstone Plane Crash Media Survey - Updated

A summary of the facts available at this time, surrounding Senator Wellstone's airplane crash of 10-25-02. (Updated 11-01-02 – note this posting is an update of… Wellstone Plane Was Out Of Control – Media Survey )

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From the 10-27-02 Sunday edition of the St.Paul Pioneer Press:

"They were no longer in control of the aircraft." said Don Sipola, a former president of the Eveleth Virginia Municipal Airport Commission, who has 25 years of experience flying at the airport. "That will be the $64 question---what occurred in the last few minutes that distracted them or caused them to wrestle control of the aircraft."

"Something caused them at low altitude to veer off course," Sipola said.

The angle of descent also indicates an out of control flight, Sipola said. The normal approach for the aircraft is a descent of 3 degrees, he said. But Siploa said the NTSB investigators told him Saturday that the plane was descending at 30 degrees.

"This was a real steep bank, not a nice, gentle don't-spill-the-coffee descent," Siploa said. This is more like a space shuttle coming down. This was not a controlled descent into the ground."

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From the Duluth-Superior 10-25-02

Bill King, vice president of Cirrus Design Corp., a Duluth-based manufacturer of smaller single-engine airplanes, said King Air enjoys a reputation as one of the most safe and capable turboprops around.

"The word that comes to mind is 'bulletproof,"' he said.

King said it remains to be seen whether ice played a role in Friday's crash, and he said the boot system employed on the King Air is "a highly respected, highly tested system."

"Something went catastrophically wrong. I don't think this was pilot error," he said.

Fifty accidents involving King Air A100s have occurred since 1975, according to the FAA. Five were fatal, but three of those five weren't the plane's fault. A100 accidents since 1975 have killed eight people in the United States and injured nine others.

The aircraft's safety record is particularly impressive considering its widespread use.

Brian Ryks, executive director of the Duluth Airport Authority, said he'd have no reservations about stepping aboard a King Air in Friday morning's weather conditions.

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From the Bloomberg News 10-25-02 by John Hughes and William Roberts

``They radioed that they were two miles out and they clicked up the lights and after that we didn't hear from them,'' Traci Chacich, office manager of Taconite Aviation, which maintains planes and sells fuel at the airport.

``Clicked up the lights'' means the pilots turned on the runway lights and would have had the airstrip in sight, she said.

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From the Minneapolis Star Tribune 10-26-02:

The state of Minnesota operates two King Air 100's. Jesse Ventura uses the planes.

Tom Kirton, an associate professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fl. said he flew a similar King Air model for five years as a corporate pilot before joining the school, which also has one. "The King Air is the finest airplane I have ever flown," he said. "The engines were totally reliable."

"Performance on take off and landing was suberb. I mean, its got power to spare," Kirton said. "You take off and lose an engine, most folks could bring it down very, very easily on one engine and land a perfectly normal landing."

Jeff Johnson, an associate professor in the aviation program at St.Cloud State University, said he has flown about 500 hours in King Air 100's as a private pilot. He said the planes are forgiving, stable and reliable.

Johnson noted the King Air 100 has a flexible, boot-like device on the leading edges of the wings that the pilot can make "expand like a balloon to break ice off."

He said he was told that only one pilot is required to fly the plane, two were hired because a senator was on board.

The pilots of Wellstone's plane... Conry had nearly 5200 hours of flying time and the highest certification a pilot can attain, his company said. Guess had 650 hours and was certified as a commerical pilot; he graduated from UND's aeronautics program.

The weather at the Eveleth airport was a mix of mist and light snow at the time of the crash.

Greg Spoden, assistant state climatologist said that at the Eveleth airport visibility was about 3 miles at the time of the crash.

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CNN’s Initial Report

As CNN First Reported: Breaking News.

The crews on the ground found two large sections of plane. The tail section was intact. The weather did not have anything to do with the crash, said the on the scene reporter.

Wolf Blitzer tried to correct her.

He said, The plane was flying into the storm of freezing rain, right?

"There is no evidence that weather had anything to do with the crash."

The on-the-scene reporter stuck to her guns.

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From the 10-29-02 Minneapolis Star Tribune:

However, the team was able to make this significant discovery: the plane's landing flaps, which allow a slower and steeper approach to a runway, were extended 15 degrees on EACH wing.

This information tends to discount the possibility, discussed by some local pilots, that one flap may have malfunctioned, putting them in different "asymmetric" positions and causing the plane to slowly turn

90 degrees from its westward approach to the runway in the moments before the crash.

According to Executive Aviation, which operated the plane, Capt. Richard Conry flew his second-to-last flight Thursday, to Bismarck, N.D. His copilot on that flight told the NTSB that Conry didn't seem sick or tired on that flight.

Conry spent much of Wednesday undergoing a required test of his flying proficiency, the Star Tribune has learned. Executive Aviation spokeswoman Mary Milla said Monday that Conry passed the so-called check ride, which was administered by a company pilot designated to conduct the exams by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The proficiency checks are required of commercial aviators every six months to maintain licensure.

"He passed the check with flying colors," said Conry's wife, Johanne, on Monday. She also said her husband was in good health and well rested for the Wellstone flight.

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From the 10-29-02 St.Paul Pioneer Press:

"Investigators...have ruled out physical problems with the pilots and one important piece of equipment."

Dr. Thomas Uncini, St.Louis County's chief medical examiner, said Monday his preliminary conclusions are that the two pilots were in good physical condition and there were no signs that they suffered a heart attack or stroke. "No, it didn't happen," he said of medical problems. "It looked pretty straightforward."

Frank Hilldrup, lead investigator for the NTSB said the landing gear appeared to be down but was too damaged by fire to determine if it had been locked into place.

Another pilot who landed a slightly larger twin engine plane at the airport on Friday, a couple of hours before Wellstone's plane crashed, said in an interview that he experienced no significant problems.

Veteran pilot Ray Juntunen said there was very light ice, "but nothing to be alarmed about. It shouldn't have been a problem."

He said he ran into moderate icing conditions at 10,000 feet and requested permission to drop to 5,000. At that altitude, he had only light icing. When he dropped to 3400 feet, to begin his approach, "the ice slid off the windshield," he said.

According to the NTSB, Wellstone's pilots received warnings of icing at 9,000 to 11,000 feet and were allowed to descend to 4,000 feet. Juntunen said he was able to see the airport from FIVE miles out, and another pilot landed a half-hour later and told him the clouds were a little lower, but still not bad.

Radar tapes indicate the plane had descended to about 400 feet and was traveling at only 85 knots near the end of its flight. It then turned south, dove at an unusually steep angle and crashed.

From the 10-26-02 edition of the St.Paul Pioneer Press:

The weather Friday was dismal, gray, foggy, with light snow, but the landing should have been routine, said Gary Ulman, assistant manager of the Eveleth Virginia Municipal Airport.

Shortly after 10 a.m., Ulman heard the pilot's voice on the radio and saw the landing lights flash on after the pilot clicked the signal from the cockpit.

But the plane didn't land.

"After a while, I thought to myself, 'Where the hell are they?' "

Ulman jumped into his own private plane and took off in search of the missing aircraft.

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Summary:

If the icing conditions were so bad (which they weren't) why would Ulman take his own plane up?

There was no problem with icing at the altitude they were flying.

Airport manager Ulman even took his plane up proving that icing was not a problem.

Even so, the plane had a deicing system that was a "highly respected, highly tested system."

They had just radioed in that they were coming in for a landing. They were only about 2 to 3 miles miles out. They gave NO indication of any problem. The NTSB has confirmed that several times.

Traci Chacich said they were only about 2 miles out when they radioed in and turned on the lights. She said,

``Clicked up the lights'' means the pilots turned on the runway lights and would have had the airstrip in sight."

To activate the airport landing lights, you tune the radio to the right frequency and click the mic button several times in quick succession. The numbers that follow vary a bit from airport to airport, but normally you click the mic three times in quick succession and the lights go on. Click the mic button five times in succession and the lights go up to medium intensity. Click the button seven times and they go up to full intensity.

Visibility was 2 to 4 miles. They would have had to be within 2 to 4 miles to "have had the airstrip in sight."

Whatever happened, happened very quickly after they clicked up the runway lights....right after a precise, one-time signal was sent to activate the runway lights. Could that same one-time signal have activated something else?

The landing gear was down.

The plane was "forgiving, stable and reliable."

The engines were "totally reliable."

You could land it "very, very easily on one engine."

"Performance on taking off and landing were superb."

The pilots were experienced veterans in good health and well rested.

Only one pilot was required to fly the King Air A100 but they had two as an extra precaution for safety.

Eight people were killed in this King Air A100 plane crash. That is as many as have been killed in the previous 27 years according to the FAA.

And one other things we know...

Bush had made it his number one priority to get Wellstone out of the Senate, presumably thru the election process.

Bush himself had come here to stump for Republican Norm Coleman and is coming again.

"Americans for Job Security", a Republican controlled "tax-exempt" group pumped over one million dollars into ads against Wellstone.

Wellstone had voted against Bush's Homeland Security.

He had voted against some of Bush's judicial nominees.

He pushed stronger environmental programs while Bush pushed the opposite way.

He pushed hard for genuine measures to counter corporate fraud while Bush pushed for cosmetic ones.

Wellstone was also the lead voice in the Senate, pushing for the investigation of the missing $350 million from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This is the affair in which Secretary of Interior Gale Norton has twice taken the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions about how $350 million disappeared late in the Reagan-Bush administration

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From The Nation May 27, 2002 issue:

Paul Wellstone is a hunted man. Minnesota's senior senator is not just another Democrat on White House political czar Karl Rove's target list, in an election year when the Senate balance of power could be decided by the voters of a single state. Rather, getting rid of Wellstone is a passion for Rove, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and the special-interest lobbies that fund the most sophisticated political operation ever assembled by a presidential administration. "There are people in the White House who wake up in the morning thinking about how they will defeat Paul Wellstone," a senior Republican aide confides. "This one is political and personal for them."

The man who began burning bridges [in 1990] with the Bush family when he challenged then-President Bush's Persian Gulf War preparations on their first meeting ("Who is this chickenshit?" Bush Sr. asked) may be the Senate's boldest foe of the Star Wars national missile defense program and of increased military aid to Colombia.

Congressional Quarterly says no senator had a more consistent record of voting against Bush Administration proposals during the new President's first year. Wellstone racks up 100 percent ratings from the AFL-CIO, Americans for Democratic Action and the League of Conservation Voters

"They have made it very clear that if they could beat one Democrat this year, it would be Paul Wellstone," says Minnesota political consultant Richman. "Paul gets under their skin." "When I first met the President, he called me 'Pablo,'" Wellstone jokes. "That lasted a day or two. Then they started trying to figure out how they were going to get rid of me."

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From Bloomberg News by John Hughes and William Roberts 10-25-02

"Wellstone had a long history of antagonizing corporate leaders by opposing their legislation during his 12 years in office, from tax cuts to a bill tightening bankruptcy laws.

National Journal Magazine named him the most liberal senator, and he ranked last on the Chamber of Commerce list of business- friendly senators. Campaign signs in Minnesota proclaimed ``Coleman for Wall Street, Wellstone for Main Street.''

He pushed hard for an independent 9-11 investigation over Bush and Cheney's strongest objections.

Wellstone voted against giving Bush a free hand to invade Iraq and it actually increased his popularity here in Minn. He was pulling ahead of Coleman and it looked like he would win reelection.

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THEN...

"Something went catastrophically wrong."

Without warning Wellstone's plane lost all control and all communication instantly within 2 to 3 miles of the runway.

Was it sabotage, assassination or an accident? You decide.

- Rick Ensminger 11-1-2002


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