The Associated Press
ALIQUIPPA, Pa. Ä A USAir jetliner nose-dived into a ravine while trying to land near Pittsburgh on Thursday, killing all 131 people on board. It was the deadliest crash in the United States in seven years.
Flight 427 originated in Chicago and was to stop in Pittsburgh before continuing to West Palm Beach, Fla.
"I looked up and there it was," said Tom Michel, who was at a gas station near the crash site. "It was just coming straight down. I was screaming for everybody to run. It looked like it was under full power, and he just went straight in."
Air traffic controllers said they lost contact with the plane when it was about seven miles from the airport, said Pat Boyle, a spokesman for the Allegheny County Department of Aviation. There were no indications of any problems on the flight and a report of an explosion before the crash could not be confirmed.
Michel said there was a "big boom and the sky lit up. There was black smoke everywhere and that was it."
Witnesses reported a gruesome carnage in a clearing on a heavily-wooded ravine.
"All we saw was body parts hanging from the trees," said Denise Godich, a nurse who was one of the first at the scene. "There were people everywhere. You could just see parts of them."
Another eyewitness said pieces of plane and baggage were scattered throughout the area.
"We have done a fairly extensive search of the area, and there are no survivors," said Jim Eichenlaub, manager of Hopewell Township and coordinator of emergency services at the scene.
The plane's black box, which records flight data, was recovered, he said.
Emergency crews put out the fire and the search was called off about two hours after the crash. The area was sealed off for the night, but off-road vehicles were spotted heading to the crash site.
The Boeing 737, which was carrying 126 passengers and a crew of five, went down shortly after 7 p.m. in a field about seven miles from the airport. The airport is 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.
"The engines just went dead," eyewitness Sandra Zuback told CNN. "It just blew up."
The weather was clear and USAir spokeswoman Susan Young said the pilot contacted the airport tower as usual on final approach. "There was no indication of any problem," she said.
Linda Jones said she was standing on her porch when she saw the plane turn to the right, turn over once or twice and go down behind some trees.
No damage to homes in the area was reported.
"I could smell the fuel in the air," said Debbie Martin of Moon Township, who was shopping in a nearby shopping center. "The explosion sounded like a muffled boom."
The plane was at 6,000 feet when it went off the radar, Boyle said. He said the plane went down at 7:19 p.m., 10 minutes after it was due in at the airport.
Several doctors who were first told to go to the scene were later told not to, hospi
There were 20 emergency vehicles on top of the hill, and a medical helicopter hovered above. Fire hoses snaked through the trees to try to douse the area.
Because the terrain near the wreckage is so rugged, rescue crews were having to build a road to the crash site. No attempts to remove debris were expected before Friday.
A temporary morgue was being set up at the airport, said Arthur Gilkes of the Allegheny County Coroner's Office. "We were told the prospect of survivors is very slim," he said.
People who had been waiting at Pittsburgh International Airport to meet passengers were taken into a private area and counselors were being brought in.
USAir also was offering counseling at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Lisa Howard, a spokeswoman for Chicago's Department of Aviation, said the city also had offered to set up a center for the families of any victims.
There was no immediate word on the number of Chicago-area passengers, Howard said.
The crash was the worst in the United States since Aug. 16, 1987, when a Northwest Airlines MD-80 went down while taking off from Detroit Metropolitan Airport, killing 156 people. A 4-year-old girl was the sole survivor.
It was the fifth fatal USAir crash in as many years.
On July 2, a USAir jetliner crashed in a thunderstorm near the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, killing 37 of the 57 people on board.
A USAir plane crashed March 22, 1992, on takeoff in a snowstorm at La Guardia Airport in New York. Twenty-seven people were killed.
On Feb. 1, 1991, a USAir plane and a commuter plane collided on Los Angeles airport runway; 34 were killed.
On Sept. 20, 1989, a USAir jet carrying 62 people skidded off a runway at New York's LaGuardia Airport into the East River. Two people were killed.
Pittsburgh International Airport has had only one previous fatal accident. In 1956, a TWA Martin 404 propeller airliner went down, killing 22 people and injuring 14.
Jerry Johnson, a spokesman for Boeing Commercial Airplane Group in Renton, Wash., said the plane that went down was a 737-300 that was delivered to USAir in Oct. 1987.
Read Next Article