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One Found Dead Amid Search for Clues in Military Crash

November 11, 1989 GMT

SMYRNA, Ga. (AP) _ A pregnant mother who was severely burned when a fighter jet smashed into a suburban apartment complex died Friday, hours after searchers found a man’s body in the wreckage of his incinerated apartment.

Navy investigators hunting through the debris for clues said they did not know what caused Thursday evening’s crash, which engulfed three apartment buildings in flames that climbed more than 100 feet in the air.

Margie Padovani, 28, died of her injuries at 8:49 p.m. EST, said John Hester, night administrator at Grady Memorial Hospital, where Ms. Padovani had been transferred with burns over 56 percent of her body.

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The woman’s 5-year-old daughter remained in critical but stable condition at Grady, Hester said. The pilot, who ejected just before the jet crashed in a fireball into the complex Thursday evening, also remained in critical condition.

″The worst part was just the sounds - that little girl screaming,″ said resident Tamara Owens.

Resident Bill Barcus, who still had a reddened face and a singed arm Friday from facing the intense heat in an attempt to reach the burning woman, said, ″I got to within 10 feet of the woman but it was too hot and I didn’t have any shoes on. All I could hear were her screams, but I had to back off. I went back to get my shoes, but by then somebody had gotten her.″

The young man’s body was found about 3 p.m. Friday in the apartment that absorbed the heaviest damage from the crash, Cobb County Medical Examiner Joseph Burton said.

The man was identified only as white and in his 20s. Burton said there was no indication that anyone else was in the apartment, where he said a man lived alone. Authorities did not immediately identify the resident or the body. Only one person was known to be missing prior to discovery of the body, but the search continued. Four missing people were located earlier Friday.

″Obviously nobody (else) turned up missing, and that leads us to believe there is no one else in there,″ said Kathie Barton, Smyrna’s director of community relations.

The body was found in the kitchen of the last apartment in a building along the easternmost edge of the complex. Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon said he was told the apartment was incinerated by 4,000-degree temperatures.

About 30 people were left homeless by the fire, and about 50 others who lived in undamaged portions of the Pine Lake Village Apartment complex had not been allowed to return to their homes Friday afternoon. Most spent Thursday night at a nearby motel, which offered free lodging.

Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Robert M. Conlyn Jr. of Marietta, the only person aboard the unarmed A-7E Corsair II attack plane, was reported doing better Friday, but remained unconscious after brain surgery, said Kennestone Hospital spokeswoman Laurel Fredlake.

Ms. Padovani also suffered lung damage from smoke inhalation and various internal injuries, Hester said. He added that doctors had not pinpointed the cause of death for the woman, who had undergone surgery Thursday night to reset a broken leg.

Troy Kraemer, Ms. Padovani’s fiance, said she had been two months pregnant.

Ms. Padovani’s daughter, Jacquelyn, also suffered burns over about half of her body, said Grady Memorial Hospital spokesman Jim Driscoll.

In other injuries, a woman hurt while fleeing her apartment was treated for cracked ribs, and a military rescue worker broke an ankle, officials said.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze about two hours after the 6:26 p.m. crash, but hot spots hampered the search Thursday night.

Civilian searchers were kept away through much of the day while Navy investigators looked for clues, and Marine Reserve guards helped seal off the crash site.

Police officer Frank Durrance said the Navy jet struck the edge of a building before crashing into a car and coming to rest by a chain link fence about 30 yards away. ″You could tell it was a car, but you can’t tell that it was a plane,″ Durrance said.

Barton said 12 apartments were destroyed and 20 damaged in two buildings. Three of the 32 units in those buildings were vacant, said Jim Humphrey, maintenance supervisor for the complex.

The jet crashed 2.5 miles short of the runway at Naval Air Station Atlanta, located at Dobbins Air Force Base, 15 miles northwest of Atlanta. The pilot was to land there while on a navigational training mission, the Navy said.

Conlyn, 37, has flown Navy aircraft for 15 years on active duty and in the Reserves. He joined Delta Air Lines in 1980 and is a co-pilot for the Atlanta- based carrier.

He suffered a skull fracture when his ejection seat slammed into a street near the apartment complex. A witness said his parachute deployed only about 100 feet off the ground.

The commander of the Naval Air Station, Capt. Peter Hunt, said the Navy had no leads on the cause of the crash. He added that the pilot did not report any trouble to flight controllers.

″Whatever happened, happened suddenly,″ Hunt said.

The plane did not carry the ″black box″ flight recorder required on commercial airliners, Hunt said. He said a Navy review board would study the wreckage and maintenance and pilot records.

The Navy has been beset by a string of accidents in the last month, including a boiler fire that injured nine sailors and two incidents in which sailors aboard aircraft carriers were swept or fell into the sea. Two were presumed dead.

In the most deadly accident of late, a jet pilot making his first landing on an aircraft carrier crashed into the USS Lexington in the Gulf of Mexico on Oct. 29, killing him and four others on the deck of the huge ship.

On Oct. 30, an F/A-18 pilot dropped a 500-pound bomb on the guided missile cruiser USS Reeves in the Indian Ocean, causing minor injuries to five sailors and blowing a 5-foot hole in the ship’s bow.

Two years ago, an A-7D Corsair, an earlier version of the plane that crashed Thursday, slammed into the lobby of the Ramada Inn-Airport in Indianapolis, killing 10 people.