A commuter plane carrying former U.S. Sen. John Tower, his daughter and 21 others crashed and burned Friday, killing all on board, authorities said.
One victim was a NASA astronaut and another was the president-elect of a large physicians’ group.
The twin-engine turboprop plane was en route from Atlanta to Brunswick when it crashed on its approach to Glynco Jetport, said Lee Duncan, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.
The death of Tower, a Texas Republican who served four terms in the Senate, came a day after an air collision over a Philadelphia suburb killed Sen. John Heinz, R-Pa., and six other people.
″It’s so sad,″ President George HW Bush said upon learning of the death of his long-time Texas political associate.
The Atlantic Southeast Airlines plane – identified by the FAA as an Embraer 120 – crashed shortly before 3 p.m. in a wooded area about 3 miles from the airport near this southeastern Georgia city. The sky was clear and visibility was about 7 miles when Flight 2311 went down, authorities said.
″I saw the plane when it was in trouble. It started in on its nose and I knew it was in trouble,″ said James Griner, who lives about a quarter of a mile from the jetport.
″I went completely around the plane looking for people, but I couldn’t find anyone,″ he said. ″I went to the plane but I couldn’t get to it because of the fire. … When I got to it it looked compacted, it was a mess. I looked for survivors around the plane and I couldn’t find a soul.″
The plane crashed into a thicket of trees, narrowly missing a mobile home park about a mile away. Rescuers had to bulldoze a 150-yard path to reach the site.
Leslie Komet, a reporter with WBSG-TV, said the plane landed nose first.
″It looks like it went right straight in,″ said Frank Manning, a pilot who flew over the crash scene.
By the time firefighters could run hoses off the nearest road and extinguish the fire, little was left of the airplane.
″Literally all that’s left of the plane is the tail and a clump of metal where the cockpit used to be,″ said Bill Kitchen, a reporter for WMOG radio in Brunswick.
All those on board were killed, said Carl Alexander, Glynn County police chief.
Duncan and ASA Senior Vice President John Beiser said 20 passengers and three crewmembers were on board. Beiser wouldn’t release their names.
Beiser, whose airline is affiliated with Delta Air Lines, said officials had no indication from the pilot that the flight was in trouble.
″The weather was clear. The airplane was on approach when we received the report it was down,″ he said. ″We had no unusual contact with the pilot.″
National Transportation Safety Board investigators were dispatched to the crash site, said Glynn County police Maj. Phillip Johnson.
Astronaut Manley Lanier ″Sonny″ Carter Jr. was on the flight, said his wife, Dana, in suburban Houston. Carter, 43, flew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on a five-day mission for the Pentagon in November 1989.
Also on board was Dr. Nicholas Davies, president-elect of the American College of Physicians, a 60,000-member industry group, said Dr. Louis Felder, who worked with Davies at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.
Tower and his 35-year-old daughter, Marian, also were on the ASA flight, said Larry Nelson, a spokesman at Tower’s Dallas office.
The Towers were heading to a dinner in his honor at the Sea Island resort community. Tower had planned a weekend at the resort, and had scheduled several media interviews about his new book, ″Consequences, A Personal and Political Memoir,″ which was published in January.
Flags at the Texas Capitol were lowered to half staff moments after confirmation came that the Towers were on the flight.
″All his life, John Tower stood tall for Texas and America,″ said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who replaced Tower when he retired.
″I’ve been his friend from the very beginning until right now,″ Bush said in Los Angeles. ″It is a tragic loss. I started with John Tower in politics in Texas 30 years ago and we were friends then and we’ve remained friends until this very moment.″
Tower was a four-term Republican senator from Texas who became chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In that post in the early 1980s, he championed President Reagan’s huge military buildup and took a tough stance against the Soviet Union.
After retiring from the Senate in 1984, he served as a U.S. arms negotiator and then worked as a highly paid defense consultant.
Bush, upon taking office, nominated Tower to be defense secretary. But the Senate rejected the Texan in a 53-47 vote, the first time in 30 years that a president had been denied a Cabinet choice.
In November 1986, then-President Reagan chose Tower’s during their 10- year marriage.
The plane was ″relatively new,″ said Beiser. He said it did not have a flight data recorder and was not required to carry one.
The Brazilian-made Embraer 120 can seat 30 passengers. There are about 100 in the United States, and they are popular with commuter airlines.
Last April 10, an Embraer 120 of the same airline was involved in an airborne collision with a smaller plane over Alabama.
Two Civil Air Patrol pilots aboard the second plane were killed when it plunged into a field. The Atlantic Southeast commuter landed safely at the Gadsden, Ala., airport, with a damaged tail section. The Embraer had three crew members and four passengers aboard.
Before you answer, consider that after Senator John Heinz died, his wife married Senator John Kerry, who was chairman of the 1988 Kerry Commission, described in the Senate Committee Report on Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy as “focusing on allegations of illegal gun-running and narcotics trafficking associated with the Contra war against Nicaragua” in relation to the CIA, Department of Justice, the US State Department, and the office of the President and Vice President. The testimony that took place during these trials (both in open and closed door sessions) was quite possibly the most damning ever against our federal government, yet mysteriously, nearly all of it was suppressed and not widely reported in the mainstream media. Why? Senator Kerry as a Democrat, had every opportunity to blast a Republican administration out of the water, yet he inexplicably remained silent and the status quo prevailed. Could it be that someone tapped him on the shoulder and told him that if he played his cards right and kept these sordid matters hush-hush, he would be rewarded sometime in the future?