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Published Reports Attribute Rick Nelson Plane Crash To Cocaine Fire Precede WASHINGTON

January 15, 1986 GMT

Undated (AP) _ Published reports today suggested that a fire ignited by ″free-basing″ cocaine caused the New Year’s Eve plane crash that killed rock ‘n’ roll star Rick Nelson and six other people, but Nelson’s manager and brother today vehemently denied the possibility.

″That’s pure nonsense,″ manager Greg McDonald said when contacted at his Palm Springs home about the stories in the Washington Post and Dallas Morning News. ″Rick Nelson didn’t do free-base (cocaine).″

Nelson’s older brother, David, told ″The CBS Morning News″ today that his brother was not a cocaine user as far as he knew. David Nelson said he was sure his brother would never have free-based the drug, CBS said.

″The passengers were asleep. Rick Nelson and his girlfriend were asleep under a blanket when the smoke occurred,″ McDonald said, attributing the information to pilot Brad Rank.

McDonald said Rank was released from a Texarkana, Tex., hospital Tuesday, but he declined to say how the pilot could be reached.

″We know why the plane went down,″ McDonald said, citing a broken gasoline-heater fuel line as the cause of the onboard fire.

National Transportation Safety Board officials have said they are investigating the line as a possible cause, but they’re not sure if it broke before or after the crash.

The Post quoted unidentified sources as saying preliminary reports indicate Nelson’s body contained a measurable level of unmetabolized cocaine, which means the drug had not been absorbed into his system at the time of death. But the sources said final laboratory reports are not available yet.

Rudy Kapustin, National Transportation Safety Board chief investigator, was quoted by the Dallas Morning News as confirming that the board was investigating the possibility of a drug-related fire.

However, Ira Furman, a NTSB spokesman, said: ″The board has no evidence now to support that kind of speculation.″

Furman also said in a telephone interview Tuesday night that the safety board does not have an autopsy report on the passengers from any source.

Dr. J. Robert Dille of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Aeromedical Institute in Oklahoma City said, ″We have specimens here, but we have not completed any analysis.″

Asked if he could confirm the Washington Post report, Dille said there was ″no way I can confirm anything at this point.″

Free-basing requires mixing cocaine with flammable ether or ammonia. After the chemicals evaporate, the ″free-base″ cocaine is usually smoked in a glass pipe held over a steady flame.

Both the pilot and the copilot, who survived the crash, have told investigators they tried to land the plane after a fire started in the passenger cabin, the report said.

Aerosol cans, which are sometimes used to aid the free-basing process, were found in the plane’s wreckage, the newspaper said. However, it said most of the cans were found in the plane’s baggage area.

″It can be observed that given the number of people on board, if you attributed cans to hair spray or anti-perspirants, you can account for those cans,″ Furman said, confirming that most of the cans were found in the baggage area.

Furman stressed that, as the Post report said, there was no drug-related paraphernalia recovered at the scene.

The newspaper said preliminary tests indicated that neither the pilot nor the copilot had alcohol or drugs in his bloodstream. Similar reports have not been completed on the five band members who died in the crash, along with Nelson’s fiance, it said.

The Douglas DC-3 was carrying Nelson and his band from Guntersville, Ala., to a concert in Dallas.

Early in the investigation, a broken fuel line was suspected as a source of the fire, but it was later established that the line broke as the plane hit the ground, the Post said.

But Furman said problems involving the fuel line had not been dismissed as a possible cause.

″The board certainly hasn’t ruled anything out conclusively,″ he said.″ We’re looking at the possibility of fuel line rupture, heater involvement ... Some possibilities are now considered more remote now than in early stages, but nothing been ruled out.″

Meanwhile, the former wife of Rick Nelson filed a petition in Los Angeles seeking temporary control of the $1.1 million estate of the entertainer.

In her Superior Court petition filed Tuesday, Sharon Kristin Nelson claims that the singer died without leaving a will and that she is entitled to be named special administrator.

Nelson’s personal property was estimated at $500,000, plus $100,000 in annual income from that property, Ms. Nelson’s petition said. The value of his real property was about $500,000, the petition said.