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Investigators Say Plane Appeared Mechanically Sound; Gas Tanks Full

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WINSTON-SALEM — Federal investigators haven't found any mechanical problems with a small plane that plunged into a house while being taken for a test spin by two mechanics who both died in the crash.

``There is no evidence so far of mechanical failure,'' Corky Smith, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said Thursday after his initial examination of the wreckage. He said the engine, propeller and landing gear appear to have been working fine, and gas was in the fuel tanks.

The Mooney M20E crashed just minutes after taking off from Smith Reynolds Airport Wednesday. Killed were the pilot, Edward George Scherry, 39, of Mountain City, Tenn., and Ricky E. Westerbeck, 35, of Millers Creek.

The plane hit a maple tree and two power lines before plowing into the corner of a house. Two women and a 9-year-old girl in the house escaped serious injury.

NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration investigators are trying to determine what caused the crash, which occurred just moments after the pilot told the control tower he was having engine problems.

The wreckage was taken Thursday from the crash site to Triad Aviation in Burlington for more tests.

Smith said officials decided to perform the tests in Burlington to avoid a potential conflict. He said the engine had once been repaired by a maintenance facility at Smith Reynolds Airport, and it would have been inappropriate to examine the engine there.

The 1969 plane, registered to Bill Webster of Oklahoma City, was being repaired at Air Winston at the airport after having a problem landing in September. Scherry was director of mechanics at Air Winston.

Smith said the investigation into the crash could take at least six months.

The crash's impact knocked the house about 18 inches off its foundation, officials said. City inspectors said the house probably will be condemned because the damage is more than 65 percent of the home's estimated tax value of $35,000.

(Copyright 1998 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-06-05-98 1227EDT