Six National Transportation Safety Board investigators performed a cursory
inspection of the wreckage Monday night, lighted by generator-powered
spotlights. Bob Francis, NTSB vice chairman, said only that the
investigators would be back Tuesday morning.
The plane went off course while en route from Florida to Texas and crashed
into a pasture in the north-central part of South Dakota after flying for
four hours apparently on auto pilot.
was a part owner of the jet, said his mother, Bee Stewart, from
Government officials said
the plane may have suffered a rare pressurization failure. When that
occurs at high altitudes such as above 30,000 feet, pilots have a short
period of time to don an oxygen mask before slipping into
It was not immediately known
whether the people on board were killed in the crash or may have died
Also killed were Stewart’s agents,
Robert Fraley and Van Ardan, and the two pilots, identified as Michael
Kling, 43, and Stephanie Bellegarrigue, 27. The jet was operated by Sunjet
Fraley was CEO of Leader
Enterprises, a sports management company, and Ardan was president.
Sixth Victim Possible
Late today, there were unconfirmed reports that there may
be a sixth victim. Jack Nicklaus said he feared one of his golf course
designers, Bruce Borland, 40, also died in the crash. Borland was flying
to Texas because he wanted to design a course with Stewart under the
Nicklaus Design banner, Nicklaus said.
Borland’s wife, Kate, said she contacted the private jet terminal this
afternoon and spoke to an employee who had greeted her husband and
confirmed he intended to board the flight.
Officials at the crash site said they could not tell exactly how many
people had been killed.
Fell Into Field
Eyewitnesses say the plane fell straight
down into the field, South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow told ABCNEWS.com from
the crash site about 12 miles west of Aberdeen. No one on the ground was
Hunters in an adjacent field
watched it fall, as did state highway patrol officers who watched the
plane with binoculars as it descended from the clear sky from about 20,000
feet, Janklow said. The jet’s impact blew a sizable crater in the earth,
he said, and left the hole full of debris.
| The plane crashed in Mina, S.D. It had taken
off from Orlando, Fla., headed for Dallas. (ABCNEWS.com/
“It’s a huge, devastating scene,” Janklow said. “You can imagine what it
did to the airplane and the human beings on the
Investigators will find little to
work with at the scene, Janklow said.
few pieces of this tragedy are larger than a couple square inches,” said
Janklow, who was told about the runaway jet about 40 minutes before the
Two F-16 fighter planes had been following the jet looking
for signs of distress. Federal officials said it appeared to be flying on
auto pilot before the crash.
The Learjet 35
left Orlando this morning at about 9:09 ET and lost radio contact about a
half hour later, officials said. It was scheduled to land in
The last communication officials had
was that the plane was over Gainesville, Fla.
FAA spokesman Paul Turk said the plane had flown as high as 45,000 feet
and the crew did not respond to repeated inquiries from air traffic
“What is the most likely
probability here is that this aircraft, which has a very small cabin
compared to a commercial jetliner, lost cabin pressure some time during
the climb out of Orlando,” said ABCNEWS aviation analyst John
He said that at altitudes above 30,000
feet, a pilot would have to strap on an oxygen mask quickly or his mind
would become so muddled from lack of oxygen — a condition called hypoxia —
that he could no longer help himself.
time of useful consciousness at 25,000 feet is a fairly sedate 20 to 25
minutes. But the time of useful consciousness at 39,000 feet is six to 12
seconds, ” said Nance.
“The fact that this
aircraft continued climbing right through their assigned altitude on up to
almost 45,000 feet, without any call from the pilots, indicated to me that
this crisis occurred some place before 39,000 but most probably above
The Air Force reported the plane had
been “porpoising,” its altitude fluctuating between 22,000 and 51,000
Stewart’s Wife Tried to Call
As the Lear 35 eerily raced across a half a dozen
states, Stewart’s Australian-born wife Tracey, following the drama on
television, tried to reach her husband on his cellular phone, according to
“She was trying to ring him on
his mobile and couldn’t raise him,” Mike Ferguson, a professional golfer,
told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. “It’s just really bad for my
sister to be watching it on CNN, knowing that it was her husband on
Military Aircraft Tracked Jet
According to an Air Force summary, after contact was
initially lost, two F-15s from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., were sent to
track the Learjet. The F-15s pulled back and two F-16s in the air from
Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., moved in to track the
After the Learjet reached the
Midwest, the Eglin F-16s pulled off and four F-16s and a midair refueling
tanker from the Tulsa National Guard followed
Eventually, two F-16s from Fargo, N.D.,
moved in close to look into the windows to see if the pilot was slumped
over and to help clear air space. Officials hoped that the F-16s could
provide assistance to anyone on board who might have helped land the plane
The pilots drew close and noticed no
structural damage but were unable to see into the Learjet because its
windows were frosted over, indicating the temperature inside was well
The F-16 pilots said they saw
the plane, apparently out of fuel, fall to the ground.
A Sad Shock to the Golf
Stewart, 42, was one of the most recognizable players
in golf because of his trademark knickers and tam-o’-shanter. He won 18
tournaments around the world, including three major championships. In
June, Stewart won his second U.S. Open over Phil Mickelson with a 15-foot
putt, the longest putt to ever decide that championship on the final
Stewart, who lived in Orlando, had been
expected in Houston on Tuesday for practice rounds in advance of the Tour
Championship, the PGA Tour’s final tournament of the year for the top 30
players on its money list.
“It is difficult to
express our sense of shock and sadness over the death of Payne Stewart,”
said PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem in a statement issued from PGA
headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The Associated Press
contributed to this report.