A small plane lost power after takeoff and crashed into a flight training building while trying to return to a Wichita airport Thursday. Four people died. Five more were injured. And the resulting fire sent up towering plumes of black smoke seen for miles.
Three of the dead were inside a flight simulator in the building when the plane crashed into it at the city’s Mid-Continent Airport. The fourth was found on the roof and is believed to be the pilot, said Wichita Fire Chief Ronald Blackwell.
One of the injured was in serious condition at a hospital, Blackwell said. Officials said only one person was in the plane and everyone who was in the building had been accounted for. Identities of all the victims were not immediately released.
Mike Metz was working on the roof of a building near the airport Thursday morning when he said he noticed a low-flying plane just south of the FlightSafety International building.
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“The next thing I knew,” he said, “it hit the top of the roof.”
He immediately saw black smoke and red flames — and then he didn’t see anything.
“It was like it sank down in the roof,” Metz said.
The crash of a Beechcraft King Air B200 came shortly before 10 a.m.
Three of the dead are from the Wichita area, authorities said; the fourth is from another country.
The pilot was identified as Mark Goldstein, 53, by Ron Ryan, founder of Ryan International Airlines and a former colleague of Goldstein’s. He said Goldstein’s family authorized him to release the name to the media.
Goldstein, the only person in the plane, was a retired air traffic controller. He was working as an independent contract pilot, Ryan said.
The aircraft, manufactured in 1999, was owned by Beechcraft, according to an FAA report.
Nicole Alexander, a spokeswoman for Wichita-based Textron Aviation, which owns Beechcraft, said in a statement that the NTSB had asked Textron to participate in the investigation and consequently Textron was “prohibited by NTSB regulation from divulging any information about the accident or investigation.”
Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer called the loss of life “certainly saddening.”
“Keep these families and these people in your thoughts and prayers,” Brewer said.
The bodies of the dead were not removed Thursday because of structural concerns with the building, authorities said. About 100 people normally work in the FlightSafety building.
For some time Thursday, authorities thought there might be four additional bodies in one of four flight simulator rooms. That area couldn’t be searched because of “collapse concerns that we have,” Wichita Fire Marshal Brad Crisp said at the time.
Heavy equipment and a structural engineer were brought to the site to help shore up the area long enough to see whether the missing people were in the fourth room, Crisp said. It was later determined that no one was in the room.
FlightSafety is an international aviation training company. It provides flight training and has several buildings in Wichita.
Blackwell, the fire chief, said the crash left the building so structurally unsound that firefighters were unable to begin retrieval efforts Thursday.
Behind him, light smoke continued to roll off the roof of the building. Its east face was partially charred and a section of bricks missing from the roofline were among debris scattered in the parking lot below. The plane, Blackwell said, was in pieces on the roof and the ground.
The NTSB “might get us some heavy equipment to take some walls down and move things that are inside the building that are encumbering recovery operations,” Blackwell said.
“That will likely be a long and complicated process.”
Some assessment was expected to be done Thursday night but “the real work will probably begin at daylight” today, Blackwell added.
A minute after the plane was cleared by air traffic control for takeoff, the pilot declared an emergency and said he had lost his left engine, according to the control tower’s audiotape.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the plane was trying to return shortly after takeoff when it hit the building. The flight was headed to Mena, Ark., according to FlightAware.
“Takeoff was normal until an aircraft emergency was declared,” airport police and fire chief Roger Xanders said.
Firefighters engaged in “a horrific firefight for several minutes,” Blackwell said, before crews were pulled out due to concerns the building was unsafe from the fire and impact of the crash.
The primary challenge for firefighters was burning jet fuel that created intense heat, he added.
One witness, Brian Youngers, said: “We heard this ‘vroom,’ … It was way too loud, way too close. We were like, ‘Holy crap.’”
Contributing: Rick Plumlee, Tim Potter, Suzanne Tobias, Kelsey Ryan and Jerry Siebenmark of The Eagle.