Investigation of Georgia plane crash focuses on snapped propeller blade

CARROLLTON, Ga. (AP) Investigators looking for the cause of a commuter plane crash that killed five people focused Tuesday on a snapped propeller blade.

Two passengers aboard Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529 said the left engine on the Embraer 120 turboprop blew apart shortly after the plane reached cruising speed. The aircraft went down in a hayfield Monday afternoon.

Investigators found nothing mechanically wrong with the left engine other than that it was ripped from its mount, John Hammerschmidt of the National Transportation Safety Board told reporters Tuesday night.

''They saw nothing catastrophic in the left engine,'' he said.

He didn't say if investigators thought the engine tore from the mount before or after the crash.

Investigators also recovered the left engine's propeller, minus most of its blade. But Hammerschmidt said it was unclear whether the blade snapped before or after the crash.

Even if it broke before, he indicated it might not have caused the accident. The twin-engine plane is certified to fly on one engine, he said.

Meanwhile, the flight data recorder recovered from the plane's cockpit indicated the engine failed at 18,000 feet.

For the next nine minutes and 20 seconds, Hammerschmidt said, the flight crew took proper emergency precautions, including preparing passengers for a crash.

A 16-inch piece of blade that was stuck in the left engine's propellor hub was sent to Washington for analysis, but the rest of the broken blade wasn't found. Investigators continued looking for it.

An Embraer 120 that crashed in Georgia in 1991, killing former Sen. John Tower and 22 others, went down after a worn part in a propeller control system, also in its left engine, failed.

In Monday's crash, the plane's engines were part of the PW-100 family made by Pratt & Whitney Canada, a subsidiary of U.S.-based United Technologies Corp.

Company spokesman Jose Jacome described the engines as workhorses of the commuter airline industry, used in the deHavilland Dash 8, the ATR-42, the Fokker 50 and the Embraer 120. ''It had a very good record,'' Jacome said.

The plane was carrying 26 passengers and three crew members to Gulfport, Miss., when it crashed about 15 minutes after leaving Atlanta.

Pilot Ed Gannaway and four passengers were killed and 24 people were hurt. Fourteen of the injured remained hospitalized Tuesday, six in critical condition. Several suffered burns.

Air Force Maj. Charles LeMay, who suffered a sprained shoulder and cuts and bruises, said he and other passengers looked out the window when they heard the left engine explode.

''All of the metal around the engine was all peeled back. The propeller had thrust over to the left and appeared stuck in the wing,'' said LeMay, of Bellevue, Neb.

''There was a loud, loud bang,'' said passenger John Tweedy of Gaithersburg, Md. ''The whole engine just sort of came apart.''

Gannaway had reported engine trouble and was apparently trying to make it to West Georgia Regional Airport when the plane crashed six to eight miles short of the airport.

Passengers and witnesses on the ground credited him with dodging houses, wires and trees.

''I think that's what saved most of us,'' said passenger Chuck Pfisterer.

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