Montana Plane Crash Kills 17, Many of Them Children

Associated Press
Monday, March 23, 2009

BUTTE, Mont., March 22 -- A small plane, possibly carrying children on a ski trip, crashed Sunday as it approached the Butte airport, killing 17 people, including several children, a federal official said. Witnesses said the single-engine turboprop nose-dived into a cemetery 500 feet from its destination.

The aircraft crashed and burned while trying to land, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus. The Montana Standard reported in an online story that it crashed in Holy Cross Cemetery.

The aircraft had departed from Oroville, Calif., and the pilot had filed a flight plan showing a destination of Bozeman, about 85 miles southeast of Butte. But the pilot canceled his flight plan and headed for Butte, Fergus said.

Preliminary reports indicate that the dead include numerous children, he said. There were no known fatalities on the ground, he added. "We think that it was probably a ski trip for the kids," Fergus said.

Martha and Steve Guidoni, who were at a gas station across from the cemetery, told the Standard that the plane "just nose-dived into the ground."

"My husband went over there to see if he could do anything," Martha Guidoni said.

Fergus said the Pilatus PC-12 aircraft was manufactured in 2001.

The plane was registered to Eagle Cap Leasing Inc. in Enterprise, Ore., Fergus said. He didn't know who was operating the plane.

I. Felkamp is listed in Oregon corporate records as Eagle Cap's president. Attempts to reach him by telephone were unsuccessful.

In California, Tom Hagler said he saw a group of about a dozen children and four adults Sunday morning at the Oroville Municipal Airport, about 70 miles north of Sacramento.

Hagler, owner of Table Mountain Aviation, described the children as ranging from about 6 to 10 years old. He said he let the children into his building to use the restroom.

Hagler said he showed the pilot where he could fuel his plane, and the pilot said he expected his flight to take 2 1/2 hours. The pilot did not file a flight plan at the Oroville airport.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said its investigators were expected to arrive in Butte by Monday.

The crash is the fourth major plane accident in slightly more than three months.

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