NTSB: Tire blowout likely to blame

Plane crash kills four

statenews@thestate.comSeptember 20, 2008 

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Federal investigators said Sunday there is evidence indicating a Learjet that crashed late Friday at Columbia Metropolitan Airport, killing four and injuring two, had a tire blowout.

But National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman Debbie Hersman would not say if that is what caused the wreck that killed the pilot and co-pilot and two friends and colleagues of drummer Travis Barker and DJ AM, both of whom suffered burns in the crash.

The plane was headed to California Friday after the duo had performed a free concert for thousands of area residents of all ages in Five Points.

A cockpit recording disclosed “a sound that was consistent with a tire blowing out,” Hersman said.

She said that officials in the control tower also told investigators that the cockpit notified them of the sound and said they could not stop the plane before it ran off the runway.

Further, investigators found the first debris from a tire about 2,800 feet down the 8,600-foot runway 11 where the crash occurred Friday night.

Air traffic controllers also reported seeing sparks from the plane, but Hersman would not specify the location on the aircraft.

S.C. Highway 302 will likely remain closed until Wednesday night.

Teams of investigators, including representatives of the Goodyear tire company and plane owners Global Exec Aviation, are in Columbia helping with the probe.

Hersman said it would be months before the NTSB would disclose the cause.

Performers Barker and Adam Goldstein, AKA DJ AM, are in critical but stable condition, but are expected to make a full recovery after being injured in a plane crash Friday in Columbia, Dr. Fred Mullins, medical director of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, told reporters Sunday morning.

The two entertainers have second- and third degree burns sustained in the crash.

Barker was burned on his torso and lower body, and Goldstein has burns on his arm and head. The men do not have any other major injuries related to the plane crash, Mullins said. The men’s vital signs and general health are being monitored closely.

“They’re doing as well as can be expected, given their injuries," said Dr. Claus Brandigi, who treated the men Saturday.

Burn injuries are not just painful -- they can restrict movement when they affect joints. Infections can also result because of skin loss. In general, internal and external burn injuries can take up to a year to heal.

But doctors expect a swifter recovery for Barker and Goldstein.

“I doubt it’s going to take that long,” Mullins said.

The men might spend days or weeks in the hospital, and once doctors upgrade their condition from critical, it will be up to them to decide whether to stay in Augusta or move to another medical facility to continue treatment.

After recovery, the men will be fully able to return to “doing whatever they were doing before,” Mullins said, adding that they are very fortunate.

“Anybody that can survive a plane crash is pretty lucky.”

The Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctor's Hospital in Augusta is the largest burn center in the United States.

It is a 59-bed facility that admits more than 3,000 patients a year, and sees several thousand more as outpatients. The center boasts a 97.6 percent patient survival rate. It is the regional referral center for seven Southeastern states.

Sunday afternoon, a joint statement was released by families of the injured musicians: "The families wish to thank fans from all over the world for their prayers and concern. Deepest sympathy is expressed to the loved ones of those who perished in the crash," said the statement.

The Columbia Metropolitan Airport reopened this morning after cleaning up from the fiery crash that injured Barker, a former drummer for Blink-182 and DJ AM, a celebrity disc jockey.

Airport spokeswoman Lynne Douglas said Sunday morning that commercial planes were again departing from the airport that closed after the Learjet carrying six crashed late Friday night.

Federal investigators will continue collecting evidence today.

Airport traffic controllers reported seeing sparks coming from the plane as it taxied down the approximately 8,600-foot-long runway about midnight, Hersman said on Saturday.

Investigators recovered the plane’s cockpit voice recorder, which will be sent to Washington, D.C., for analysis to determine whether there were any conversations between the pilot and co-pilot prior to the crash, which killed them and two passengers, Hersman said late Saturday.

“I have every confidence that we will be able to determine the probable cause of this accident regardless of whether or not the cockpit voice recorder data is good,” Hersman said.

Investigators likely won’t know for weeks what caused the crash at the end of runway 11.

The private charter plane flew into Columbia about 11:10 p.m. Friday from Teterboro, N.J., to pick up the passengers and take them to Van Nuys, Calif., according to authorities and flight records. The plane refueled before it left New Jersey, Hersman said. It was at the Columbia airport for about 45 minutes before the attempted take off.

The jet never got off the ground, crashing at 11:53 p.m. into lights and through the fence at the end of the runway. It traveled across S.C. 302 and crashed into an embankment on the other side, bursting into flames, authorities said.

Hersman described the crash as a “high-speed overrun,” though investigators have not yet determined the actual speed. She said the plane traveled “pretty much” in a straight line down the runway.

Kiilled in the crash were two members of Barker’s entourage - personal assistant Chris Baker, 29, of Studio City, Calif., and bodyguard Charles Still, 25, of Los Angeles. Pilot Sarah Lemmon, 31, of Anaheim Hills, Calif., and co-pilot James Bland, 52, of Carlsbad, Calif., also died, Lexington County Coroner Harry Harman said.

Eyewitness William Owens told WIS-TV that he was driving on S.C. 302 Friday night when he saw a fireball go across the road about 800 feet in front of him.

Owens said he stopped his car and saw DJ AM, 35, whose real name is Adam Goldstein, and Barker, 32, standing in the middle of the road. He said Barker’s pants were on fire and he was trying to extinguish the flames.

“We turned to the jet to try and see if there was anything we could do, but immediately, there was nothing anyone could do,” Owens said.

“I felt ill or sick to think that these lives were snuffed out at that point.”

The only other known witnesses were in the control tower, NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said. But he said sometimes it takes a while for witnesses to come forward in crashes.

The partially burned jet sat on the embankment Saturday at the end of a long, black streak of burned jet fuel across S.C. 302. Federal investigators, who arrived on the scene around 11 a.m., surveyed the crash site and collected evidence to help determine the cause of the crash.

Hersman said the weather was clear with a slight breeze Friday night.

The Learjet 60 was manufactured in 2006 and certified to fly in 2007; it was owned by Inter Travel and Services Inc., based in Irvine, Calif., and was operated by Global Exec Aviation in Long Beach, Calif., Hersman said.

Maintenance records were sealed and on their way to Columbia Saturday from California, Knudson said, adding it could take a couple of days for the records to reach investigators here.

“We have not yet found anything, but we are looking at everything,” Hersman said. “Nothing has been ruled out at this point. .æ.æ. We will be looking at the man, the machine and the environment to help us explain this accident.”

The agency will investigate the pilots’ records and what they had been doing 72 hours before the crash, a routine part of such investigations, Hersman said. The agency also will review paperwork, physical evidence and eyewitness accounts to help determine what caused the crash, she said, adding the S.C. Highway Patrol and the FBI are assisting in the investigation.

The two survivors, Barker and Goldstein, were taken by ambulance to Palmetto Health Richland and then to the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Ga., where they were listed in critical condition Saturday.

The crash shut down air traffic to and from Columbia Metropolitan all day Saturday, leaving hundreds of passengers scrambling for another way to their destinations. The airport’s other runway is under construction through the end of November and could not be opened to accommodate airplanes.

The investigation also closed down a portion of S.C. 302 Saturday; Hersman said that stretch would remain closed until Monday night.

Fire and police units from the airport, Lexington County and the city of Cayce responded to the crash site Friday night to extinguish the flames and help the victims.

The fatal crash was the second at the airport in less than two years.

On. Jan. 4, 2007, three Columbia-area men were killed when their single-engine Cessna crashed in woods on airport property while trying to land in foggy weather.

Reach Rupon at (803) 771-8622. The Associated Press and Czerne M. Reid contributed.

-- Anyone with information about the crash or its victims, contact The State at (803) 771-8150.

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