A U.S. military plane carrying Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown and 32 other people crashed into a hillside yesterday while trying to land in extremely bad weather near the Croatian port city of Dubrovnik, killing everyone on board.

"Unfortunately all the people who were in the aircraft are dead. We found all the bodies," Miomir Zuzul, Croatian ambassador to the United States, told reporters this morning after rescue teams worked through the night in fog and rain. He said 33 bodies were recovered in and around the plane.

The Air Force T-43A aircraft, whose passengers included other Commerce Department officials and a group of American business leaders looking into postwar reconstruction projects in the former Yugoslavia, smashed into a rocky 2,300-foot hilltop about 1.8 miles from the Dubrovnik airport.

The plane disappeared from airport radar screens at 2:52 p.m. (7:52 a.m. EST). Air Force Lt. Gen. Howell Estes, operations director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon that there was no evidence of an explosion aboard the plane or of hostile fire around the airport, once the scene of heavy Serb-Croat fighting.

Besides Brown, there were 12 U.S. government officials, 13 business executives, New York Times reporter Nathaniel Nash and six crew members aboard the plane. Among the executives was Washington resident Paul Cushman III, head of international and embassy banking operations for Riggs National Bank. Although the government refused to release a list of passengers, officials identified 19 of those aboard. {See page A26.}

The Pentagon said the aircraft, a military version of the Boeing 737 commercial jet, was more than a mile off course as it approached the airport, situated on the Adriatic coast about 12 miles southeast of Dubrovnik. Estes said the federal government has begun an investigation into the crash, but it appeared likely that low visibility and gusty winds may have been factors.

Reports of Brown's death immediately plunged much of official and political Washington into shock. He had many close friends at the White House in addition to President Clinton and the first lady and was known by virtually every major figure in the Clinton administration.

In brief remarks to Commerce Department employees yesterday, Clinton praised Brown as "one of the best advisers and ablest people I ever knew; he was very, very good at everything he ever did." The loss of Brown -- who as the first black chairman of a major U.S. political party was instrumental to Clinton's 1992 election campaign -- deprives the president of one of his most important links to the black business and political community.

Although Brown was a key administration strategist in this year's presidential campaign, attending high-level political planning meetings on a weekly basis, his visibility in Washington has declined sharply in the past year as investigators examined his alleged involvement in a web of suspicious financial dealings.

An independent counsel was appointed last year to look into how Brown made nearly a half-million dollars by selling his interest in a company he formed with Texas businesswoman Nolanda Hill, even though Brown never invested any money in the company.

Independent counsel Daniel S. Pearson was also investigating whether Brown filed inaccurate reports on his financial holdings, whether he provided inaccurate information on a mortgage application and whether an Oklahoma natural gas company hired Brown's son, Michael, in hopes of gaining influence with the Commerce Department.

White House aides said last year that, given the charges Brown faced, the best outcome he could hope for was to avoid indictment and forcible resignation. Brown declared at the time that "there has been no improper activity or impropriety" on his part, and he insisted that an investigation would clear his name.

In a Tuesday night interview in Paris on his way to the Balkans, Brown sought to explain to Washington Post correspondent William Drozdiak why he was leading an American business delegation to a region where war and ethnic hatred have destroyed much of the infrastructure and crippled the economy.

Brown said that trade, not aid, was the key to reconstruction and that U.S. foreign policy objectives could be achieved while making sure that "American companies . . . get their share" of the $5 billion worth of construction projects he expected in the region in the next five years.

"Our business presence can carry an impact well beyond the military peacekeeping role now being played by American and NATO troops; that's why we're going there," said Brown, whose tenure as commerce secretary was regarded by many in the business community as exceptionally effective in promoting American interests in new overseas markets.

Before the crash, Brown and his delegation spent what appeared to be a pleasant visit with U.S. peacekeeping troops near the Bosnian city of Tuzla. "I'm really exhilarated by what we've seen," he said after discussing the recent reopening of local communications links, roads and bridges with area mayors and U.S. troops. "This is really a historic visit," he said, "moving from peacekeeping -- from being the guardians of peace, to being in the vanguard of the effort to reconstruct and to develop Bosnia."

Before departing Tuzla for Dubrovnik, Brown and his delegation posed for photographs with several American soldiers, including the acting U.S. commander in Tuzla, Army Brig. Gen. Stanley Cherry. "They were a big hit with the troops, even passing out lots of McDonald's hamburgers they had brought with them, still all in their wrappers," Capt. Leonard Esposito said in a telephone interview from Tuzla.

The Air Force jet transporting them had often been assigned to ferry visiting dignitaries around Europe. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton flew in it last week while in Turkey, and Defense Secretary William J. Perry used it earlier this week for trips to Bosnia, Croatia and Albania.

The aircraft, based in Ramstein, Germany, had an unblemished safety record, according to the Air Force, which reported that none of the 17 T-43s it employs had been involved in a serious mishap in the 22 years the military has been flying them. The one that crashed yesterday was last subjected to a complete inspection in June 1995, the Air Force said.

The airport, which has mountains looming near the runway and does not have the precision approach equipment common in the United States, is considered an extremely difficult place to land in poor weather. Although five planes landed there in the hours before the crash, Croatian Airlines diverted some of its commercial flights away from Dubrovnik because of harsh weather.

For the first few hours after the plane was reported missing and probably down, there was considerable confusion among local authorities and U.S. military officials about where it had disappeared. Initial reports reaching Washington included sightings of wreckage in the Adriatic several miles west of Dubrovnik, and U.S. military commanders dispatched a search-and-rescue team from Italy and helicopters from a Navy destroyer to the area, but nothing was found.

In Washington, meanwhile, the news that Brown's plane had crashed and that he was presumed dead caused consternation among those who knew him. D.C. Mayor Marion Barry broke down and cried as he reflected on his friendship with Brown, a man he had known for more than two decades.

"Ron was not just secretary of commerce to me; I called him a good friend," Barry said. "He didn't leave the District. He could have moved someplace else, but he remained because he loved the District. Not only will the federal government lose; our city will lose a good friend." Staff writers Ann Devroy, Bradley Graham, John Pomfret and Don Phillips contributed to this report. CAPTION: LANDING AT DUBROVNIK AIRPORT

The U.S. military plane carrying Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown and 32 other people crashed at 2:52 a.m. local time yesterday while trying to land in bad weather near Dubrovnik, Croatia. The Air Force plane smashed into a 2,300-foot hill about 1.8 miles north-northwest of the runway.

The approach to the Dubrovnik airport is extremely difficult in poor weather conditions because of the proximity of mountains and because the airport does not have the type of precision instrument approach equipment that is common at U.S. airports.

1. Pilots approaching Dubrovnik line up on two navigational aids called NDBs (non-directional beacons). The pilot must keep the plane headed toward the NDB. Other types of navigational aids, such as instrument landing systems, provide more information to the pilot to stay on course.

All aircraft approaching the airport must begin their approach at 4,000 feet altitude at a point northwest of the airport and generally descend southeast toward the runway along the coast and across several spits of land.

2. If the approach is straight into the runway, the airplane lands with no turns. If, because of winds or some other factor, the plane must land toward the northwest, the standard procedure is to turn out to sea, go past the airport and then turn back toward the airport.

None of the published approaches to the airport involves going over the mountains where the plane crashed.

1. First navigational beacon:

Airplanes start their descent at 4,000 feet (11.8 miles from end of runway)

2. Second beacon: At this point, planes should be at 2,149 feet (1.9 miles from end of runway)

The T-43A is the Air Force version of the well-known Boeing 737 passenger jet. The military uses the craft primarily to train navigators, but some are configured to carry passengers.

- Length: 100 feet

- Height: 37 feet

- Wing span: 93 feet.

- Range: 2,995 miles

- Speed: 535 mph. SOURCES: Jeppesen Sanderson Inc., Associated Press CAPTION: Air Force Lt. Gen. Howell Estes shows reporters the hilly terrain near Dubrovnik where the plane carrying Ronald Brown went down in bad weather.