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SURVIVOR PRAISES `MARVELOUS' PILOT

A survivor of a fiery commuter plane crash says he owes his life to the pilot, who maneuvered the plane over houses, trees and power lines to the relative safety of a hayfield. Another survivor said he heard an explosion and saw damage to an engine before the plane went down.

Pilot Ed Gannaway and four passengers died after the Atlantic Southeast Airlines turboprop, possibly with engine trouble, crashed into the field Monday afternoon and broke into three large pieces. But 24 other people aboard the plane survived."The pilot seemed to do an outstanding job of bringing that plane down as best he could, and I think that's what saved most of us," said passenger Chuck Pfisterer.

"He missed the wires and landing on the houses, and found an opening," said Frances Boone, who lives near the crash site. He "had to be a marvelous pilot."

The plane left a scarred path in the hayfield, indicating it barely cleared trees before hitting the ground. Some of the passengers fled the wreckage with their clothes ablaze.

The flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder have been recovered and sent to a laboratory in Washington, National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Alan Pollock said Tuesday.

"We hope to find some usable data on them," he said.

Air Force Maj. Chuck LeMay of Bellevue, Neb., said he and other passengers heard an explosion from the left engine just before the crash.

"From that we all looked out over the left wing. All of the metal around the engine was all peeled back," he said. "The propeller had thrust over to the left and appeared stuck in the wing."

There were 26 passengers on the flight from Atlanta to Gulfport, Miss. One was dead at the scene, a married couple died later at separate hospitals, and a fourth passenger died Tuesday. At least eight people were in critical condition at burn centers.

Passenger Kevin Bubier of Waterboro, Maine, said he found himself hanging upside down after the crash.

"`My clothes caught fire. It must have been the fuel because my one pants leg was burning and I couldn't put it out. I was trying to take off my shoes and my pants.

"There were other people who were worse. They were totally engulfed (in flames)," said Bubier, 37.

Polona Jeter, who lives nearby, said she saw the front of the plane "rolling and tumbling and on fire" as the aircraft came apart.

"I could see about 10 people getting out," she said. "Some were burning. They were running. People were trying to get them down and get it out."

The Brazilian-made Embraer 120 two-engine turboprop was about 15 minutes into its 362-mile flight when the pilot radioed he was having engine problems, said Christy Williams, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman.

Passenger John Tweedy of Gaithersburg, Md., said he heard a loud bang, then "looked out the window and there was no propeller there. The whole engine just sort of came apart."

Tweedy, who suffered only a bruised forehead and cut hand, said passengers were told the plane could fly with only one engine and would return to Atlanta. Then the plane began descending.

"I could see the ground, they got us into the (crash) position, and I thought, `I don't think we're in Atlanta yet,' " Tweedy said from his bed at a Carrollton hospital.

It was the third fatal commuter plane crash in 10 months. A French-made ATR turboprop flown by American Eagle crashed in October in Indiana while waiting to land at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, killing all 68 aboard.

A British-made Jetstream flown by American Eagle crashed Dec. 13 in fog and drizzle as it approached Raleigh-Durham (N.C.) International Airport, killing 15 of 20 people aboard.