An air of subdued mourning cloaked the Twin Cities tonight as the community waited to learn who was aboard Galaxy Flight 203 when it crashed and burned early this morning in Reno, Nev.
The death toll was said to be at least 64, but most of the victims were so badly burned in the crash that swift, positive identification of the dead was impossible. Three passengers survived.
No official list of passengers was forthcoming from Galaxy Airlines, the Fort Lauderdale company from which the Lockheed Electra had been chartered for a weekend gambling excursion. Many of those on board were said to have participated in similar flights to Reno in the past.
As an aid in identifying the remains, law-enforcement agencies were collecting dental records, where possible, of people thought to have been on the flight.
According to local media, the victims included Sam Fragale and Kay Meyer of Minneapolis, who called friends here over the weekend from Reno to announce that they had been married Saturday.
The plane had been due to arrive here at 5:45 a.m. CST. Several friends and relatives of passengers were at the Hubert Humphrey Charter Terminal at Twin Cities Airport to meet the flight.
Then word of the disaster came, and as the morning wore on, several dozen more friends and relatives gathered. Still, there was no official word about those aboard. By midafternoon, as those who were waiting reportedly became increasingly angered at their inability to learn anything, an official of Page Avjet, which runs the charter terminal, advised them to go home and stay by their telephones for official word.
The Associated Press reported the following:
A woman whose husband and son survived the crash said, "God must have been listening to me.
"I'm not a religious person, but this is one time I believe in it," Adrianne Lamson of St. Paul said after learning that her husband, George, 42, a carpenter, and her son, George Jr., 17, were among the three survivors of Flight 203.
"We're still in a state of shock. We're still trying to put the pieces together," she said.
Her son was reported in satisfactory condition at Washoe County Medical Center in Reno, according to hospital spokesman Jan Johnson. Her husband's condition was critical.
"It's a miracle. This boy essentially walked away from a crash where everyone else died," said Jerry Calvanese, triage officer at the scene.
Dr. Stephen Grace, who operated on the boy's father, said doctors did not know exactly what had happened to the youth. He told them he was seated on the left side of the plane and that it started to bank to the right, apparently trying to return to the airport.
Then there was an explosion and the youth said he found himself in his seat on the ground, Grace said.
He said the teen-ager told him he was still in his seat when he was thrown out of the plane, so he "pulled the buckle and unstrapped himself."
Adrianne Lamson said her son, a senior at Cretin High in St. Paul, told her that the accident "happened so fast he couldn't remember anything."
A couple from suburban Bloomington had been scheduled to take the flight but canceled their reservation at the last minute.
"My father had a bad feeling about it. Also, my mom was pretty tired, so they decided to take another flight," Russ Abalan said of his parents, Douglas and Bev Abalan.
After skipping the flight, the Abalans won $1,500 at the slot machines and were celebrating when they learned of the crash, according to a casino publicist.
Adrianne Lamson described the trip to Reno as "kind of a junket. Gambling, skiing, whatever they wanted to do there. My son was there for the skiing; he's too young for gambling."
Such flights to gambling resorts are common from Minneapolis and other northern cities during the winter. A number of travel agencies said they had routinely arranged flights to Reno, Las Vegas and other gambling spas. The long, cold winters that grip the cities of the northern United States help make these flights popular wintertime diversions for thousands.
The Galaxy plane took a party to Oakland, Calif., for Sunday's Super Bowl game at Stanford, returning to Reno that night, the Los Angeles Times reported. Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett flew back to Reno on the plane, a spokesman for the team said. A football autographed by Dorsett was found at the crash site.
Many of the passengers on Flight 203 were from the Twin Cities area, said an official with Page Avjet.
Some friends and relatives of those scheduled to return aboard the plane learned of the crash when they arrived at the terminal.
"One of the passengers called me about 2 a.m. and said they'd be a little bit late," said Andy Connoy, who had gone to the airport to pick up Fragale and Meyer, the newlyweds.