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Report: Drug-Related Fire Suspected In Rick Nelson Plane Crash

January 15, 1986 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal investigators suspect a fire ignited by ″free-basing,″ a form of cocaine use, may have caused the New Year’s Eve plane crash that killed rock ‘n’ roll star Rick Nelson and six others, a published report said.

Sources said 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, The Washington Post reported in Wednesday’s editions. But the sources said final laboratory reports are not available yet.

Ira Furman, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, asked whether investigators were looking into the possibility of a drug-related fire, 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.

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.

Propellants from 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-reported paraphernalia recovered at the scene.

The newspaper said preliminary toxicology reports 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.″

Entertainer Richard Pryor nearly died of burns suffered in 1980 after a flammable drug mixture apparently exploded in his face.