Plane crash victims were going to Ohio plant blast, not derailment

February 27, 2023 GMT

CLAIM: Five environmental scientists who died in a plane crash were heading to East Palestine, Ohio.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Five employees of an environmental consulting firm died in a plane crash near Little Rock, Arkansas, on Wednesday, but they were not traveling to East Palestine, where a freight train derailed on Feb. 3. The employees were responding to an unrelated Feb. 20 explosion at a metals plant in a Cleveland suburb more than 60 miles away.

THE FACTS: In the days since the Feb. 22 plane crash, some social media users have falsely claimed that the aircraft was transporting environmental scientists to East Palestine, where a freight train derailment earlier in the month prompted officials to intentionally release and burn toxic vinyl chloride to avoid the danger of an uncontrolled blast.

“BREAKING NOW: Environmental scientists that were headed to East Palestine, Ohio killed plane crash,” reads an Instagram post with more than 2,000 likes.

Similarly, a Twitter user wrote Thursday, “JUST IN: Five environmental scientists headed to East Palestine, Ohio have been killed in a plane crash.”

But the posts are wrong that the passengers of the crashed plane were en route to East Palestine.

As The Associated Press has previously reported, the five environmental consulting firm employees who died in Wednesday’s crash were traveling to John Glenn Columbus International Airport in Columbus from Little Rock airport.

All five people on board the plane, including the pilot, were employees of CTEH, a environmental consulting firm based in North Little Rock, and they were responding to the Feb. 20 explosion at an Ohio metals plant in the Cleveland suburb of Oakwood Village, according to the company. The blast killed one worker and sent more than a dozen to the hospital.

The twin-engine plane, a Beech BE20, crashed a couple of miles south of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, according to Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Cody Burk. The crash occurred as a line of thunderstorms that the National Weather Service said included wind gusts of 40 mph (64 kph) moved through the Little Rock area. Burk said it would be up to investigators to determine if weather was a factor, the AP reported.

Neither the plane crash or the metals plant explosion is related to the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine Ohio, which is located some distance east southeast of the Cleveland area. CTEH was hired as a contractor for rail operator Norfolk Southern to review sample information for surface waters, according to the Pennsylvania governor’s office.

Local residents and some elected officials have expressed concerns about environmental hazards posed by the derailment and subsequent controlled burn, which has morphed into a heated political controversy. The crew operating the freight train didn’t get much warning before dozens of cars went off the tracks, and there is no indication that they did anything wrong, federal investigators said Thursday.

Misinformation about the train derailment has spread widely online. Social media users have misrepresented a map to suggest that everyone living in the Ohio River basin should be concerned about the safety of their drinking water following the incident, while others have falsely claimed that a new draft government vinyl chloride report was suspiciously edited to omit key information about cancer, children and drinking water.


This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.