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Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2000

Carnahan’s plane reported trouble

Lieutenant governor sworn in to fill remainder of term

October 19, 2000

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— The son of Gov. Mel Carnahan, piloting his father's ill-fated plane, told air traffic controllers the craft was malfunctioning minutes before it crashed, investigators said Wednesday.

Carnahan, 66, died when the Cessna 335 crashed Monday night in a hilly area south of St. Louis. Also killed were his son Roger, 44, and his chief aide, Chris Sifford, 37. The cause has not been determined.

Details of communication between Roger Carnahan and the control tower at Lambert Airport in St. Louis were released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The twin-engine six-seater took off just before 7 p.m. from Parks Airport in Cahokia, Ill., near St. Louis, heading for a fund-raiser in New Madrid through rainy, foggy conditions.

At 7:20 p.m., Roger Carnahan said he was having trouble with the artificial horizon, which is used to judge whether the plane is tilting. Two minutes later, he sought permission to turn to the west toward an airport in Jefferson City.

Six minutes later, at 7:28 p.m., Roger Carnahan told controllers he was still having trouble and was trying to switch to visual flight rules, which means he was trying to find a path clear enough to fly by sight.

Air traffic control told him "to just keep heading west" to avoid fog and rain. The pilot said he was heading west, and then the tower lost radar contact with the plane at 7:33.

NTSB investigators have found a football-sized piece of the plane's engine more than a quarter-mile away from most of the plane's wreckage, something agency spokeswoman Carol Carmody called unusual.

The investigation could take months.

The aircraft had a clean track record, as did Roger Carnahan, an amateur pilot with more than 1,600 hours of flying experience.

Earlier Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson officially took over leadership of the state after a medical examiner identified the remains of Mel Carnahan and Sifford.

Wilson, like Carnahan, is a Democrat. He was sworn in as Missouri's 52nd governor at a brief ceremony after midnight attended by his family, Carnahan's staff and state lawmakers. He will serve out the rest of Carnahan's term, which ends Jan. 8.

"The people of Missouri have my pledge that I will do everything I can ... to make Missouri as productive as possible and a great place to live," said Wilson, who became lieutenant governor in 1992 and was re-elected in 1996.

Mel Carnahan had been battling Republican Sen. John Ashcroft in one of the nation's tightest Senate races. Carnahan's name will stay on the Nov. 7 ballot because the deadline to change it has passed. If Carnahan receives the most votes, Wilson can appoint a replacement to serve until the next general election, in November 2002.

Carnahan's casket will lie in state at the Governor's Mansion today for public visitation. President Clinton is expected to attend a memorial service Friday outside the Capitol in Jefferson City.

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