Sen. Paul D. Wellstone (D-Minn.) and the seven others killed in a plane crash Oct. 25 died from the impact, not the fire that later engulfed the plane, the St. Louis County (Minn.) medical examiner said today.
Dr. Thomas Uncini said he filed the death certificates Monday and listed the cause of death for all the victims as "traumatic injury due to, or as a consequence of, an aviation crash with fire."
Uncini said his earlier examinations of the pilots had ruled out that they had suffered a medical emergency, such as a heart attack or a stroke. In addition, no one had a gunshot wound, he said.
"I looked," he said. "I X-rayed all the bodies and I looked for bullet fragments."
The determination took more than three weeks after the crash just outside Eveleth, Minn., because the fire destroyed so much of the bodies. The Federal Aviation Administration laboratory in Oklahoma City was unable to do tests on the passengers, who were more consumed by the flames than were the pilots, Uncini said. He was able to obtain some blood from the pilots, and the lab confirmed there was no carbon monoxide in it, meaning the pilots had died before they could inhale any smoke.
The plane crashed about 10:20 a.m. Central time while making its final approach at the Eveleth-Virginia airport. For some reason, the plane turned south, rather than continuing west the final several miles to the landing strip.
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the crash.