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Commuter plane crashes in northeastern Missouri, killing at least eight; two survive

KIRKSVILLE, Mo. — Emergency crews searched woods and open fields early Wednesday for possible survivors of a commuter plane crash that killed at least eight people but left two others with only broken bones.

The American Airlines-affiliated Corporate Airlines plane, a twin-engine turboprop, crashed in the woods a few miles short of the Kirksville airport where it was preparing to land. Five people were missing, and the cause of the crash had not been determined.

One survivor, a 44-year-old woman, was walking around when rescuers arrived at the crash scene, and a 68-year-old man was found alive in brush about 25 feet from the fuselage.

"We see car accidents with worse injuries coming in here every week," said Dr. Charles Zeman, director of trauma services at Northeast Regional Medical Center. "This is truly a miracle."

Zeman said the male survivor broke his left hip and a bone in his lower back. The woman suffered a compound fracture of right arm and mild to severe burns over 8 percent of her body. Both were in stable condition.

Several of the victims were on their way to a medical conference, said Philip Slocum, dean and vice president for medical affairs at the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Sgt. Brent Bernhardt of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said rescue workers were holding out hope the five missing — all passengers — also survived the crash and would be discovered in the daylight.

"We had officers out there all night," he said. "I'm confident that they did a good search, but I can tell you the area is heavy brush, it's hard to see through. When the daylight arrives, it's going to help us out tremendously."

The wreckage was scattered over an area about one mile across, but the two survivors were discovered "so close to the plane we're imagining the others probably should have been close to the plane if they survived," Adair County Chief Deputy Larry Logston said.

The plane — Corporate Airlines Flight 5966 — was on a regular route from St. Louis with 13 passengers and two crew members aboard when it crashed shortly after 7:50 p.m., said Elizabeth Isham Cory, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Chicago.

The plane clipped treetops before crashing on its belly. Emergency crews found the fuselage engulfed in flames and largely intact, with the wings broken off nearby, Logston said.

All eight of those known dead were found in the fuselage, some still in their seats and the two crew members in the cockpit area, he said.

Two victims were from the Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Arnold P. Gold Foundation, said Barbara Packer, the foundation's managing director. Another passenger was Dr. Steve Z. Miller, the director of pediatric emergency medicine at New York's Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, according to his office.

Also on board were faculty members from Florida, Ohio and Utah, he said. He declined to release their identities.

"There's been a lot of tears. It's very painful," Slocum said.

Al Maglio, a photographer who said he arrived at the same time as highway patrol officers, said a woman ran up to the emergency workers, told them she had been in the plane and said, "It came apart before it hit the ground."

The last communication from the Jetstream 32 indicated it was on a normal approach to Kirksville Regional Airport in northeastern Missouri, and there was no mention of any problems, Cory said.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators arrived at the airport Wednesday morning and recovered both of the plane's flight data recorders.

Thunderstorms were reported in the area at the time of the crash, but it wasn't immediately known what conditions were like where the plane went down or if weather was a factor.

Corporate Airlines, based in Smyrna, Tenn., provides 70 flights from 13 cities in the Midwest to St. Louis and Nashville as AmericanConnection, affiliated with American Airlines.

Doug Caldwell, Corporate Airlines' CEO, said the crash was the airline's first fatal accident. The company has 250 employees and flies 17 Jetstream 32s. The airline was trying to contact the families of all the passengers, he said.

"It's far too early ... to know the cause of this tragic accident," Caldwell said Wednesday after arriving in Kirksville. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone touched by this tragedy."

Kirksville is about 220 miles northwest of St. Louis.

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