Local News

Traveler Lucky To Be Alive After Missing Fatal Flight

Posted January 8, 2003

— People in terminals all across the country were talking about Wednesday's crash of Air Midwest Flight 5481 as it took off from Charlotte's Douglas International Airport headed for Greenville/Spartanburg Airport in S.C.

One man in Charlotte was shaking his head, feeling lucky to still be alive. He had just missed his connection to Flight 5481.

Passenger Chris Canney will look back on the tragic events and be forever grateful for what didn't happen to him.

"The only reason I wasn't on 5481 is because they didn't have time to transfer my baggage from the plane I got off of to the plane I was getting on to," Canney said.

But 21 passengers and crew were on the plane when it took off. They were strapped into the Beech-1900 that rolled down Runway 18-Right early Wednesday morning.

The runway was a 10,000-foot stretch. Experts say the plane only needed 4,000 to become airborne. That's about the point where something went wrong.

"The aircraft took off, was unable to maintain altitude, came down and clipped the corner of the US Airways hanger buiding," said Jerry Orr, director of airport operations.

The plane that crashed had a maintenance history that included a problem with the landing gear back in May. Investigators on the scene Wednesday said they didn't know what caused the crash, noting that the plane was destroyed too badly to make a determination.

One of the crew members radioed that there was an emergency on board shortly before the crash.

Ironically, as late as Tuesday, a pilot flew a Beech 1900 into the Greenville/Spartanburg airport on alert because of the landing gear. The airport couldn't confirm that it was the same plane that crashed.

"The pilot wasn't getting a signal that his nose gear was locked," said Rosylin Westin of Greenville/Spartanburg Airport. "He was attempting to land here. He circled the airport and landed without incident.

"The nose gear was, in fact, locked. He just wasn't getting a signal."

Investigators anticipated being at the scene of Wednesday's crash until at least midnight gathering evidence and the remains of the victims. The black boxes were recovered and sent to the NTSB to examine in Washington, D.C.

"I have to thank God I wasn't on that plane," Canney said.

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