Four dead, five injured after plane crashes at Kansas airport

By Alice Mannette
Four dead, five injured after plane crashes at Kansas airport

By Alice Mannette

WICHITA Kan. (Reuters) - Four people were killed, including the pilot, and five injured when a small airplane crashed into a building at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita, Kansas, on Thursday, setting off an explosion and huge ball of fire, officials said.

Authorities said they had accounted for four people who had been listed as missing after the airplane, which officials said carried only the pilot, struck a building where pilots train on the airport grounds.

"I heard a big loud noise, but it was muffled. I saw smoke and flames. I rushed over," said Lana Johnson, 65, who was in a post office near the airport when the plane crashed.

The pilot of the airplane, which was identified as a twin-engine turbo-prop Beechcraft King Air 200, reported losing engine power just after taking off from the airport and crashed as it tried to return, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Four people were dead and five people injured, Wichita Fire Marshal Brad Crisp told a news conference. Authorities have not released the identities of the victims.

One of the injured was listed in serious condition and the four others were treated and released from Via Christi St. Francis Hospital, spokeswoman Maria Loving said.

Three of the dead were in a flight simulator and one was on the roof, the airport said. Their bodies had not yet been recovered because of concerns about the building's safety.

Fire Chief Ron Blackwell said the plane appeared to strike the top of the building, sparking an intense fire. Parts of the airplane were found on the roof and on the ground, he said.

"Firefighters engaged in a horrific firefight for several minutes and now we have the fire under control," Blackwell said.

Television video showed heavy, dark smoke rising from the building, which sits between two sets of airport runways and includes a Cessna learning center with flight simulators where pilots undergo training. It suffered serious damage, including collapsed walls and ceilings, the airport said.

Authorities said more than 100 people were believed to have been in the building, which was operated by FlightSafety International, a Berkshire Hathaway Inc company.

Crews had searched three of four flight simulators in the building, but could not get into the fourth due to concerns about potential structural collapse, Crisp said.

Ron Ryan, a former airline owner, said he knew the pilot for two decades and employed him in the past as a contract pilot. Ryan said he also owned a King Air like the one that crashed on Thursday.

"On his day off, he flew co-pilot on my Learjet and captain on my King Air," Ryan said in an interview, adding the pilot was a former air traffic controller.

Mid-Continent's commercial flights were largely on schedule with few reported delays, the airport said.

The National Transportation Safety Board will lead the investigation, the FAA said.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Mo., and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Bill Trott, Mohammad Zargham and Peter Cooney)