Richland, WA Airliner Crashes On Takeoff, Feb 1978


Richland, Wash. (AP) -- Everything appeared normal as Columbia Pacific's FLight 23 roared down the runway. But a minute later, the plane nosedived into the eastern Washington sagebrush, killing all 17 on board.
Witnesses say the 15 passengers and two crewmen, a full load, never had a chance to escape the inferno that followed the crash and explosion Friday evening.
The plane was climbing into the sky when "it looked like it had stopped in the air," said police officer MARK PANTHER, who witnessed the crash.
"I though to myself, 'It looks like a gllider.' The nose tilted down a little bit and then the plane went out of sight" behind a knoll and crashed, he said.
By the time he arrived, the plane was "engulfed in flames," PANTHER said. "It's the worst disaster I've even seen."
During the night, private security guards and police watched the crash site, about half a mile from the Richland Airport's runway. Authorities waited for daylight before beginning the grisly task of removing the charred bodies from the wreckage.
National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration investigators were sent from Spokane and Seattle.
Reporters were kept about 50 yards from the wreckage. The planes' white tail section stood erect, its orange and blue stripes gleaming under the beams of emergency lighting.
The fuselage and nose sections of the twin-engine Beechcraft 99, were described as "a bunch of molten metal."
"There were no unusual circumstances," a somber FRANK DuBREE, the airline's marketing director, said of the plane's takeoff.
DuBREE said the cause of the crash had not been determined.
Battalion Chief DAN DOWNS of the Richland Fire Department said, "It appeared no one even had a chance to make an attempt to get out."
He said the fire had peaked before firemen arrived within two minutes after the crash.
Another witness, DAVE RIGDON, a pilot and airplane mechanic from nearby Kennewick, said he watched the plane take off and said the pilot was "doing a beautiful job."
RIGDON said the plane seemed to stall and nosedived into the ground and exploded.
Columbia Pacific, formerly known as Execuair, is an air taxi service based in Richland.
"We've been in business since 1971, and up until now we've had a perfect record," said DuBREE.
The company services Spokane, Seattle, Portland, the TriCities and Bremerton.

Oelwein Daily Register Iowa 1978-02-11