Federal investigators hope to begin recovering evidence Saturday inside the building where four people were killed in a plane crash this week at Mid-Continent Airport, but authorities say it could be a couple of days before the bodies can be removed from the rubble.
Crews are using extreme caution because of the instability of the FlightSafety International building after a twin-engine aircraft crashed onto its roof midmorning Thursday.
As of early Friday evening, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board — the federal agency charged with determining the causes of air crashes — haven’t been allowed to get closer than 30 feet of the building since they arrived Thursday night, said Josh Lindberg, NTSB’s lead investigator at the scene.
About a quarter of a mile behind him, crews were working to stabilize the building, including knocking down some exterior walls.
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“We hope to have access sometime (Saturday),” he said.
Wichita authorities were also being cautious.
“We’re concerned about the safety of fire personnel and other agency personnel that would need to go in” to retrieve the victims as well as pieces of the Beechcraft King Air B200, Wichita Fire Marshal Brad Crisp said.
Contractors arrived earlier Friday to assess “what needs to be done to render the building safe” for fire crews and NTSB investigators, Crisp said.
“It’s one thing to search a building,” police Lt. James Espinoza said. “It’s another thing to remove people.”
Espinoza confirmed that the pilot of the King Air, 53-year-old Mark Goldstein, was one of the four people killed in the crash, but he would not release the identities of the other victims. Three lived in Wichita, officials have said, while the fourth lived in another country.
One of the three victims who was killed inside the building was identified by her husband as Nataliya Menestrina, 48, who was working in one of the flight simulators as a Russian translator. One of the two pilots killed in the simulator was Russian, Larry Menestrina said.
At his briefing, Lindberg also said that the NTSB has confirmed that there were a cockpit voice recorder and “some sort of data recorder” on the plane.
Authorities have identified six eyewitnesses to the crash, Lindberg said, and three of them had been interviewed by the NTSB as of late Friday afternoon. Their stories were consistent, he added.
All three said the plane took off from Runway One Right, started to drift to the left side of the runway, then made a steep left bank before hitting the building, he said.
The pilot told the air-traffic control tower that he had lost power in his left engine, according to a recorded audio tape.
Officials have requested that anyone with live video of the crash to let them know, but Lindberg said so far no one has provided a video.
NTSB investigators will remain on the crash site for a couple more days, he said.
Four of the five people injured in the plane crash have been released from a local hospital. Scott Mans, 39, remains in serious condition in the Via Christi Regional Burn Center at St. Francis, a spokeswoman for the hospital said.