Des Moines, IA Iowa State Cross Country Team In Crash, Nov 1985


Des Moines (AP) -- A twin-engine airplane slammed into a fashionable residential neighborhood in a freezing drizzle Monday, killing seven people, including the coach and three members of the Iowa State University women's cross country team.
"We heard a terrible roar, then a flash of light," said JANE ZEPEDAS, whose home is next door to where the plane hit two miles west of downtown Des Moines.
"It's a tragedy, but it could have been three or four times as bad," said Police Sgt. BILL MULLINS.
Iowa State University officials early today identified the victims as women's track and cross country Coach RON RENKO of Ames; team members JULIE ROSE, 21, of Ashford, Kent, England; SUSAN BAXTER, 22, of Brentwood, Essex, England and SHERYL MAAHS, 20, of Spirit Lake; student trainer STEPHANIE STREIT, of Hawarden; BURTON H. WATKINS, of Ames, director of the Iowa State flight service and pilot of the plane; and assistant ISU Coach PAT MOYNIHAN of Ames.
The plane was one of three carrying members of the Iowa State men's and women's cross country teams back home following the NCAA championship meet in Milwaukee, Wis., earlier in the day. The two other planes landed safely in Des Moines.
The women's team finished second in the national meet.
Iowa State Athletic Director MAX URICK said a memorial service will be held on the campus, but the time had not been set.
"Some things defy explanation and understanding and require faith," URICK said. "I think there's a very, very common feeling of tremendous loss."
Men's Coach BILL BERGAN, who was on one of the planes that landed safely, said, "I think all of us really are in a state of shock."
Federal Aviation Administration officials visited the site briefly Monday night. Investigators were being flown in from Kansas City today.
There was speculation that a buildup of ice caused the crash. Freezing drizzle had blanketed the state all of Monday.
The Aero Commander airplane was enroute from Milwaukee to Ames, but was diverted to Des Moines because of bad weather. One witness said the plane was apparently suffering engine problems just seconds before the crash.
FRANK ARBS was on his way home from a convenience store and heard the plane coming in.
"I could hear one engine sputtering and the other engine just screaming," ARBS said. He said the plane went almost directly over his car as it came in.
The plane burst into flames on impact and it was more than three hours after the crash before officials were able to pull the last body from the charred wreckage.
"We can say with confidence that all the personnel aboard were outs," said URICK. "This is a tragic event in the history of Iowa State's sports program."
MULLINS said all members of the men's team were accounted for.
Ames Airport Manager H. A. WESTBROOK said the Des Moines control tower said the pilot of the crashed plane reported "severe vibrations and that he was climbing to 3,000 feet."
"At 5:25 p.m. the (Des Moines) tower reported it went down off their radar screen," he said.
Although the FAA had not completed its investigation, WESTBROOK said the crash probably was caused by ice buildup on the wings.
WESTBROOK said it was "unusual" for a pilot to report that he was climbing again because the plane was so close to the Des Moines Municipal Airport, about three miles away.
"This is only speculation, but he might have missed his approach and began climbing to come around again," WESTBROOK said. "He should have been at 2,600 feet but he could've been lower because of ice buildup (on the wings.)"
"It sounded like a semi-truck barreling down the street," said CHRISTY COBB, who lives near the crash site. "Before it hit, I said 'that plane's going to crash.' Then the sky turned pink."
The plane came down from the west and slammed into an oak treet only 70 feet from the nearest house. Police said they scoured the neighborhood for blocks, but could find no damage on the ground.
MULLINS said weather conditions caused the three Iowa State planes to be diverted from Ames to Des Moines. In all, 21 members of the men's and women's teams and coaching staff and pilots were reported aboard the three planes.
The crash stunned the ISU campus, just 30 miles north of Des Moines.
"I'm shocked," said MARTIN MILLER, a junior at the school. "I know a member of the team real well. Her name was CHARLOTTE."
At that point MILLER broke down, but when he regained his composure he added, "She was probably on the trip. I feel pretty sorry for the families. They were all so young."
After landing in at the Des Moines airport, the surviving team members were taken to the Ames airport where they had cars.
"There was a mood of silence and shock as the remaining team members left," said Iowa State Daily photographer TIM HYNDS, a student at ISU.
WESTBROOK said the plane was equipped with "ice boots," or a rubber-like mechanism designed much like a bicycle inner tube on the wings.
"These boots are designed to break up the ice when they're inflated, the ice should break off. But there could have been so much ice on the boots that he couldn't break it or maybe the boots just didn't work," WESTBROOK said.
He also said the planes, all owned by Iowa State University, were supposed to land at the Ames airport, which has two runways. But he said one runway is closed because of construction and the other was ice-coated, forcing the planes to land at Des Moines.
"It appears to be weather related," MULLINS said.
The plane lay crumpled upside down, its tail angled into the air and the rest an indistinct mass of charred metal piled at the base of a tree on a sloping street.

Oelwein Daily Register Iowa 1985-11-26