Plane crashes in Minn., killing all 18 aboard


HIBBING, Minn. -- A Northwest Airlink passenger plane has crashed in foggy, rainy weather just east of Hibbing, killing all 18 people on board.

The plane was on its final approach to Chisholm-Hibbing Airport when it tore into a hill of taconite waste last night, said Hibbing police spokesman Bill Allegrezza.

The cause of the crash wasn't known early today, but other pilots reported heavy icing in the area at the time. Weather forecasters said planes landing in Duluth at the time were heavily iced.

The plane, Flight 5719, a twin-engine Jetstream turboprop operated by Minneapolis-based Express Airlines II, left Minneapolis at 6:52 p.m. and made last radio contact at 7:58 p.m., said airline spokesman Jeff Wehrenberg.

There were 16 passengers and two crew members aboard the plane, which was en route to Hibbing and International Falls, Mr. Wehrenberg said. Eleven of the passengers were bound for Hibbing and five were bound for International Falls, he said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mort Edelstein said there were no survivors.

Names of the victims had not been released early today, but families had gathered at the Twin Cities airport and at a Hibbing church awaiting word. Only the crew's family members had been officially notified, an airline spokesman said.

The plane was 2 to 3 miles from the airport at an altitude of 7,500 feet when it disappeared from radar, Mr. Edelstein said.

"The last thing the controller saw was a plane dropping off the scope," Mr. Edelstein said.

The area surrounding the crash was locked in snow, and city workers had to use two front-end loaders to carve out a road to the site, Mr. Allegrezza said. Several all-terrain vehicles were used to reach the craft.

Sheriff's department officials weren't notified that a plane was missing until about 8:18 p.m. They found the wreckage within about 45 minutes.

Bill Hanegmon, a sheriff's deputy who was first on the scene shortly after 9 p.m., said the plane appeared to be coming in low on its approach when it skidded across a road and into the side of the mine dump, about 1 1/2 miles short of the runway.

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