TAKEOFF TROUBLE IN HAWTHORNE

TAKEOFF TROUBLE IN HAWTHORNE

NIX

Crash of charter plane injures 2

y By Denise Nix

A chartered passenger plane carrying 21 people lost control during takeoff at Hawthorne Municipal Airport on Sunday and crashed into a hangar before it left the ground, seriously injuring one person.

The crash shortly after 9 a.m. caused the airport, which caters to private and charter jets, to close for most of the day.

Airport manager Don Knechtel said the Merlin Metroliner turboprop airplane was carrying 19 passengers and two crew members, and was trying to take off when it started to veer to the left.

The pilot tried to control the plane but was unable to, and shut the power down, Knechtel said.

Skid marks show the plane’s path as it careened into a nearby hangar about 1,000 feet from the beginning of the runway. Three planes inside the hangar were damaged, Knechtel said.

Throughout the day, fire crews spread foam and sand around the plane to soak up some of the 100 gallons of aviation fuel that spilled, while trucks siphoned what was left of the fuel from the plane.

Besides the woman who was seriously injured, one other person on board received minor injuries and was treated at the scene, Knechtel said.

“We are very fortunate that there was only two injuries,” Knechtel said.

Mayor Larry Guidi credited airport staff, Hawthorne police and the Los Angeles County Fire Department for a swift response that got the passengers to safety quickly and possibly averted a fire.

“It could have been much worse,” Guidi said.

The seriously injured woman, like all the passengers, is from Japan and was part of a tour group going to the Grand Canyon for a one-day tour.

The unidentified 31-year-old woman was taken to Martin Luther King Jr.-Drew Medical Center in critical condition with cuts to her legs, but she was upgraded to stable later in the day, said Hawthorne Police Lt. John Beerling.

Her mother-in-law, who was traveling with her, said in Japanese through translation help from her tour guide that she didn’t understand what was happening when the plane crashed.

“All of the sudden, something happened and the side windows broke and I heard my daughter-in-law scream,” said the woman, who had blood from the injured woman on her pants and on a bag she was carrying. The passengers came from two or three tour groups that chartered the plane from Skylink Charter, which owns three planes that are based at the Hawthorne airport.

The woman was part of a tour group organized by Pony Travel, based in Los Angeles.

Tomo Sakai, an operations manager for Pony Travel, said the Grand Canyon tour is an optional trip that costs $335 per person.

Sakai said this was the first time his company has sent a group on this tour since Sept. 11, 2001, because there have been fewer tourists and because many who want to go to the Grand Canyon arrive from Las Vegas on a cheaper trip.

This is the first time any of the planes his company has chartered has crashed, Sakai added.

The Merlin Metroliner was built by Germany-based Fairchild Dornier. No one at the aerospace company’s U.S. office in Virginia was available to comment Sunday.

This was the first crash at the 80-acre facility on Crenshaw Boulevard in two years.

The last crash was in October 2000 when a single-engine plane lost power after takeoff and crashed behind an auto-repair shop in Gardena. The pilot was pulled out of the fiery wreckage by bystanders and survived.

That followed a deadly crash in May 2000 when a small airplane slammed into a Dumpster behind a busy fast-food restaurant after takeoff, killing all three people on board.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2002

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