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Plane Crashes In Storm, 7 Killed

January 20, 1990 GMT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ A twin-engine corporate jet crashed short of a Little Rock municipal airport runway in a storm Friday, killing all seven people aboard, authorities said.

The 21-seat Gulfstream II jet, carrying employees of an Eastman Kodak Co. subsidiary, apparently was attempting a landing shortly after 5 p.m., witnesses said.

Seven bodies were recovered from the wreckage, said Coroner Steve Nawojczyk, adding there were no survivors.

″The airplane broke apart on impact,″ Nawojczyk said.

The plane hit guidance lights short of the airport, hit a street near an airport intersection, struck railroad tracks and a fence, losing a wing and wheel, and plowed 200 feet into airport property without reaching the runway, said Bill Booker, who was at the scene.

Heavy rain and lightning swept through the area about the time of the crash.

Craig Martin, a witness, said, ″First I heard like a rumbling of thunder and as I looked out I saw streaking fire going across the runway. It didn’t look like there was anything left of the plane.″

Airport officials hadn’t considered closing the runways because of the weather, and decisions on landing in bad weather are up to the pilot, said airport Manager James Rodgers.

The plane left Longview, Texas, earlier Friday and was headed to Batesville, Ark., said Bill Edwards, a spokesman for Eastman Kodak subsidiary Tennessee Eastman Co. in Kingsport, Tenn. The passengers were employees of Arkansas Eastman in Batesville, which makes chemicals and aspirin.

The plane was diverted to Little Rock because of bad weather, Edwards said.

Gary McDonald, manager of community relations for Arkansas Eastman, identified the dead as: M.L. ″Bud″ Gernert, retired Arkansas Eastman president, and his wife, Marian, and company employees William Schirmer, Randy Wood, Nathan Casteel, and company pilots Don Mason and Ed O’Neal.

Charley Rogers, a passer-by, said he was driving on Interstate 440, which passes the airport, when he saw the plane ″hit some guy wires or something - I saw sparks. It looked sort of red and blue.

″When the plane hit the ground, it just exploded,″ Rogers said.

″All I saw was the explosion,″ he said. ″There were sparks up in the air, so it did hit something in the air.″

State Rep. Jim Keet, D-Little Rock, who arrived at the airport on a commercial flight, said, ″It looks like a major crash scene out here.″

Keet said that at the time of the incident, ″the weather was atrocious,″ and he was surprised that aircraft were coming in for landings at the time.