Updates: FAA, FBI, Local
Officials Evasive on Key Details
Data Confirms Weather Not a Factor in Crash
Joe Taglieri and Michael C. Ruppert
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2002, 20:00 PST (FTW) [Updated Jan. 21, 2003] -- The National Transportation Safety
Board has said the investigation into the Oct. 25 air
disaster that killed Sen. Paul Wellstone, his wife,
daughter, three campaign staffers and two pilots could
take six months. In the meantime as icy weather is
trumpeted throughout the news media as the leading
suspected cause, the following is a list of information
about the crash that is known at this time. This
report is an update of known information developed
through FTW's investigation in advance of the NTSB's
report on the crash.
Flight's Final Moments
NTSB chief Carol Carmody who referred to "air traffic
control records," an Oct. 27 New York Times story
recounted the plane's final flight: "It took off
at 9:37 a.m. from Minneapolis-St. Paul and at 9:48 was
issued instructions to climb to 13,000 feet. At 10:01,
air traffic control issued a clearance to land at Eveleth,
and the pilot was given permission to descend to 4,000
feet. The pilot was also told that there was icing from
9,000 to 11,000 feet. At 10:10, the pilot began his descent.
At 10:18, he was cleared for an east-west approach to
the runway, and, according to radar, the plane was lined
up with the runway.
was the last transmission conversation with the pilot,'" Ms.
Carmody, a former CIA employee, said.
had been completely normal up until that time, and there
was no evidence on the controller's part or from the
pilot's voice that there was any difficulty, no reported
problems, no expressed concern.'
10:19, according to radar, the plane was descending through
3,500 feet and began to drift southward, away from the
runway. Two minutes later, radar recorded the last sighting
of the plane at 1,800 feet and a speed of 85 knots just
northeast of the accident site.
don't know why the turn was occurring,' Ms. Carmody said.
"That's what we hope to find out.'"
pilot who works at the airport discovered the crash site
from the air at approximately 11 a.m., when he saw a
cloud of "bluish gray" smoke rising from the
ground. At that point he notified the control tower at
the Duluth airport 60 miles away. The Duluth tower covers
Eveleth, and it gave the Wellstone aircraft clearance
to begin a landing approach at 10:18. This was the pilots'
last radio communication, about two minutes later.
fire and rescue personnel arrived at the scene shortly
thereafter, said Steve Shykes, the nearby town of Fayal's
volunteer fire chief who was in charge of fire and ambulance
personnel at the scene.
said he arrived at 11:45 that morning to set up his command
post on the road about a half mile from the crash site.
(click picture to enlarge)
wreckage was found 2.1 miles southeast of the east end
of Eveleth-Virginia Municipal Airport's (EVM) Runway
27, which is 3 miles southeast of Eveleth, Minn. The
site's swampy, wooded terrain is 30 yards north of Bodas
Road, according to a police and fire dispatcher who was
at the site. Rescue workers had to use all-terrain vehicles
equipped with tracks to access the downed aircraft. In
some areas of the site, the mud was waist-deep.
to investigators and photographs, the wings and tail
section broke off as the plane descended into the trees
at a steep 25-degree angle and a slow airspeed of 85
knots, compared to the normal 115-knot approach speed.
Damage to the propellers indicated to investigators that
the engines were running at the time of impact.
accounts reported that after impact, a massive fire consumed
the rest of the plane, which was facing south, away from
the east-west runway. This resulted in the near total
disintegration of the fuselage and severe damage to the
FTW has obtained two Associated Press
photos of the crash site. No evidence of fire, charring,
or smoke damage was visible on the wreckage shown in
to Frank Hilldrup and Paul Schlamm of the NTSB, the investigation
is in the analytical phase. No conclusions will be drawn
and a report will not be issued for several months.
Thomas Uncini St. Louis County medical examiner, determined
both pilots died from impact, not smoke inhalation, health
issues such as a heart attack or stroke, or a gunshot
wound. The doctor told reporters he looked for gunshot
wounds on all eight victims and found none.
could not be reached for comment, but according to the
St. Paul Pioneer Press on Nov. 21, he listed the
cause of death for all eight victims as "traumatic
injury due to, or as a consequence of, an aviation crash
day of the crash, local fire and police investigators
said personnel from their departments were on the scene
shortly after 11.
in the afternoon between noon and 2, FBI agents from
the Duluth and Bemiji office arrived at the crash site,
according to Paul McCabe, a special agent and spokesman
for the FBI office in Minneapolis. At approximately 3
o'clock, McCabe said, agents from Minneapolis arrived.
the afternoon, the FBI's Evidence Recovery Team searched
the crash site for indications that foul play might have
been involved. Agents found no evidence to warrant a
criminal investigation, "pretty early on," said
McCabe, and the NTSB took the lead on the investigation
that evening when Carmody and her team arrived at about
are many unresolved questions as to the points of origin
and assignments of the first FBI agents at the scene.
Special agents from the Minneapolis office are known
to have been at the scene approximately 2.5 hours after
the crash, but the exact time of their arrival is a question
that neither the FBI or incident commanders at the scene
seem able to answer definitively.
explanation contradicts reporter Christopher Bollyn of
the American Free Press, who said he spoke to a female
employee of the FBI Duluth office who said agents from
Minneapolis -- not Duluth -- were the first to arrive
at the crash site.
Bollyn quoted St. Louis County Sheriff Rick Wahlberg
as saying that he first saw FBI agents at the crash site "early
in the afternoon, about noon."
When FTW contacted Wahlberg, he said he arrived
at the crash site "around 1:30" and saw that
FBI agents from Minneapolis who he knows personally were
already on the scene. Minneapolis is about 175 miles
from Eveleth, and driving time between the two cities
is about 2.5 hours, according to local residents familiar
with the route -- a large portion of which is two-lane
said agents from Duluth and Bemiji could have easily
responded to the scene around noon, but he wasn't sure
of agents' exact arrival times. When asked if logs were
kept with such arrival times, McCabe said, "We don't
really keep log time, per se, like that...Like when I
write reports on whatever investigation I do, you don't
put times in there. It's a day, it shows the investigation
was conducted on such-and-such a day."
Tim Harkenen of the St. Louis County Sheriffs department
was the law enforcement incident commander at the scene.
Harkenen said on Nov. 25 he would retrieve his files
and look up the logged arrival times of various personnel
who were at the crash site, but since that initial contact,
he has not taken or returned FTW's calls.
FTW also requested from the FAA the maintenance
and certification "337" documents for the aircraft
in question. The order for a Federal Express overnight
shipment was placed Nov. 13 with the administration's
Aircraft Registration Branch in Oklahoma City, but as
of this story's publication, no documents have been delivered.
Calls to the FAA have failed to yield an explanation
as to why the documents have not arrived as promised.
FAA form 337s are public records and by law must be made
available to anyone who requests them.
Ulman, who co-owns Taconite Aviation based out of the
Eveleth airport, took his plane up after receiving word
from the Duluth tower that the Wellstone plane failed
to land on EVM's Runway 27.
called up here to me on the telephone and asked if the
airplane was on the ground. And I told them no, it wasn't," said
Ulman. When he went outside to double check the tarmac,
he phoned the Duluth tower back to confirm that the Wellstone
plane had not landed. The controller called rescue personnel,
said Ulman, and he took his plane up to search for the
and other local pilots who flew into Eveleth's airport
that day said icing was not at a dangerous level and
have characterized the weather conditions at the time
of the crash as not dangerous flying weather.
don't think icing had an effect," said Ulman, who
took his plane up twice after the crash -- first to find
the wreckage, then with Chief Shykes to help direct the
fire and rescue personnel to the site.
residents Rodney Allen, Megen Hill, and Kim Hill were
reported to have seen or heard the plane as it flew over
their homes moments before it crashed.
Beech King Air A-100 was built in 1979 and seated eight
passengers and two pilots, though only one pilot was
required for standard operation. Wellstone traveled with
two pilots as a safety precaution. The plane was a dual
Pratt/Whitney engine turbo-prop, registered as N41BE,
serial no. B-245.
Aviation owned and chartered the aircraft, which was
not required to have a cockpit voice recorder or flight
data recorder, according to the FAA and Mary Milla, a
spokeswoman for the charter flight company in Eden Prairie,
aviation regulations require commuter aircraft with 10
or more seats to have a flight data recorder. Aircraft
with six or more seats and requiring two pilots for standard
operation must be equipped with a cockpit voice recorder,
said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Paul Takemoto.
King Air is very widely used for charter services. It
has a fatal accident rate 25 percent lower than all privately
owned and chartered turbo props, according to the Associated
Press citing Robert Breiling, a Florida-based aviation
consultant who studies business aviation accident rates.
aircraft was equipped with de-icing boots, which are
designed to break through ice that accumulates on the
would not comment on whether the de-icing boots
or any other equipment was functioning properly.
instruments at the Eveleth airport at 10:14 a.m. CDT
indicated the wind was calm and the visibility was three
miles in light snow. There were scattered clouds at 400
feet and overcast at 700 feet.
temperature was 33 Fahrenheit, and the dew point was
altimeter, which measures a plane's height based on barometric
pressure, was at 30.06 inches of mercury.
airport has no control tower and is equipped with a VOR/DME
landing guidance system. The minimum altitude for a landing
approach is 371 feet from less than 2 miles out. If a
pilot does not have visual sight of the runway at this
altitude, he or she is required to call in a "missed
approach" and go around the airport for another
the case of this crash, there is no reason to suspect
the pilots could not see the runway because the cloud
ceiling was 700 feet. Ulman also doubted a missed approach
was happening because there was no contact from the pilots
control tower at the airport in Duluth, which is about
60 miles south of Eveleth, monitors radar covering EVM's
airspace. There is also an FAA radar station in Nashwauk,
40 miles west of Eveleth.
Conry, an experienced pilot with more than 5,000 hours
of flying time, was the doomed flight's captain. Conry,
55, had reportedly flown into the Eveleth airport many
times prior to Oct. 25, and Wellstone often requested
Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Conry served federal
time because of a 1990 conviction for mail fraud, and
he apparently exaggerated his level of experience flying
large passenger aircraft for the airline American Eagle
before being hired to fly Executive Aviation charters.
has also been reported that Conry worked as dialysis
nurse, and he completed a shift at a Minneapolis hospital
at 9 o'clock the night before his scheduled flight with
Wellstone on the morning of Oct. 25.
Guess, 30, had 650 hours of flying time and was employed
as a pilot by Executive Aviation in April 2001.
In a chilling footnote The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported
on October 26th that Guess had performed administrative
work at the Pan Am Flight School in Minneapolis where Zacarias
Moussaoui had been taking flight lessons. Not only had
Guess and Moussaoui known each other but Guess had "inadvertently"
given Moussaoui access to a computer program on flying
a 747 jumbo jet. The FBI later found the proprietary program
copied on his laptop computer - the one which Supervisory
Special Agent David Frasca - head of the Radical Fundamentalist
Unit in Washington - had been preventing the Minneapolis
field agents from searching.