St. Johns, AZ Transport Plane Crash, Feb 1996


St. Johns, Ariz. (AP) -- A military transport plane converted for civilian use crashed and burned on takeoff Monday morning in an open field, killing all four people aboard, authorities said.
The plane went down about 9:50 a.m. a half mile from the airport and only four blocks from an elementary school in this town about 15 miles west of the New Mexico state line.
"I heard a noise that sounded like engine trouble. I looked out at the sky and saw the plane barely above the treetops and then it kind of nosedived to the ground and exploded into flames," said Debra Hall, a teacher's aide who was on the school playground with 14 preschool children.
"The pilot to me was a hero," said Tim Lesperance, an owner of a nearby restaurant, Katy's Country Kitchen. "If the plane would have been going the way it was going it would have hit a few buildings."
Matrese Avila, spokeswoman for the Apache County Sheriff's Department, confirmed that everyone aboard was killed.
The plane was a C-131 converted for civilian use as a Convair 440, said Carol Long, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Los Angeles. The plane can carry about 50 people or be used as an air ambulance, Long said.
The flight plan showed a destination of Chetumal, Mexico, via Brownsville, Texas. Authorities did not immediately know the plane's ownership.

Intelligencer Doylestown Pennsylvania 1996-02-06