Denver, CO Jetliner Crashes On Takeoff, Nov 1987


Denver (AP) -- Witnesses said a Continental Airlines jet veered back and forth before it crashed on takeoff in falling snow, killing 26 people and injuring 56, but an official said today there were no crosswinds and the airport can operate safely in snowstorms.
The DC-9, with 82 people aboard, broke into three pieces and turned upside down, and 11 survivors were in critical condition today. The Sunday afternoon crash was the deadliest in Stapleton International Airport's 58-year history.
Flight 1713 originated in Oklahoma City, stopped in Denver and was delayed by a snowstorm. It was en route to Boise, Idaho, when it crashed at 2:16 p.m. MST.
A team of investigators was going through the wreckage today, but said it might be months before a cause was known.
DR. NORM DINERMAN of Denver General Hospital, who helped to coordinate treatment efforts, said today that the fact that any passengers emerged alive was due to "tremendous luck, divine providence and the fact that the airplane had not gained a lot of altitude."
Rescue efforts were hampered by bad weather, blinding snow, darkness and ice on the roads and runways. Some survivors were trapped in the wreckage for up to six hours.
Witnesses said the twin-engine DC-9 was barely off the ground when the accident happened.
"That flight lasted five seconds, maybe six," said Navy Lt. CURTIS RENFRO, an aviation maintenance officer, who saw the crash from another Continental flight landing on a parallel runway.
"The last time I saw it (the plane), it was grossly tilted. He was actually up on his starboard wing. When that happens, the pilot tries to flip to left to correct. He may have overcompensated," said RENFRO.
KEVIN FLEMING, airport operations manager, said about an eighth of inch of wet snow was on the runway, but conditions were normal for heavy snowstorms at Stapleton. "There were no other problems with departures before the incident," he said.
Asked today whether the airport should have been closed, Stapleton spokesman RICHARD BOULWARE said, "I don't believe so, no."
"There were no crosswinds," he said on NBC-TV's "Today" show.
BOB JOHNSON, chief of National Transportation Safety Board's Denver office, said up to 50 investigators may be involved in the next seven to 10 days.
The plane's black box, containing cockpit voice and data recorders, was recovered and being held for the investigators, but JOHNSON said a report on the probable cause may not be available for months.
"The right wing dropped, and we veered to the right," said passenger FRED H. HELPENSTELL, a 56-year-old physician from Nampa, Idaho. "Then the left wing dropped and we veered to the left and crashed."
At least nine flights -- five United and four Continental -- were canceled this morning because the airlines could not get enough planes into Denver after the crash shut the airport for several hours Sunday, airport officials said.
With the exception of the runway where the crash occurred, all runways were open today, said BOULWARE.
The last major U.S. plane crash took place Aug. 16, when a Northwest Airlines MD-80, a version of the DC-9, crashed on takeoff at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, killing 156 people.
HELPENSTELL was one of many who suffered minor injuries Sunday, although he was trapped two hours. He was treated for hypothermia, as were several who spent hours inside the crushed wreckage before being freed.
"I remember thinking, 'I'm about to die! This is it!' And then I wondered what's it going to feel like," HELPENSTELL said.
LIBBY SMOOT of Ketchum, Idaho, who escaped virtually unharmed, said she and other passengers "were petrified. We knew exactly what was happening."

Atchison Daily Globe Kansas 1987-11-16

Fatalities Of The Denver Crash
Flight Crew:
Captain FRANK ZVONEK, 43, Carlsbad, California.
First Officer LEE BRUECHER, 26, Houston, Texas.
Flight Attendant DIANA MECHLING, 33, Aurora, Colorado.
RICHARD L. COOK, 51, Boise, Idaho.
TAMI DANIEL, 26, Melba, Idaho.
JOSEPH BLISS GLYNN, 51, Kansas City, Missouri.
WILLIAM HARKENRIDER, 43, Manassas, Virginia.
MIKATO HIDESHIMA, 54, Lakewood, Colorado.
HERMAN KLAUSSEN, 53, Mountain Home, Idaho.
DENNIS KEMPER, 41, Boise, Idaho.
JANINE LEDGERWOOD, 17, Spokane, Washington.
KAREN MARRIA, 35, Boise, Idaho.
BOB McALPINE, 42, Ontario, Oregon.
ANTHONY NASRALLAH, 2, Jacksonville, Florida.
PETER NASRALLAH, 6 months, Jacksonville, Florida.
SHERRY NELSON, 18, Melba, Idaho.
TERRY OWENS, Boise, Idaho.
MAX RICHTER, 45, Boise, Idaho.
EDWIN ROOD, 46, Emmett, Idaho.
RUTH ROOD, Emmett, Idaho.
BONNIE SMITH, El Paso, Texas.
WILLIAM SPALSBURY, 46, Evergreen, Colorado.
JOHN STEWART, 32, Payette, Idaho.
RICHARD VERHEUL, 54, Stuart, Florida.