Mike Metz was working on the roof of a building near Mid-Continent Airport on Thursday morning when he said he noticed a low-flying plane just south of the FlightSafety International building.
“The next thing I knew, it hit the top of the roof of FlightSafety,” Metz said.
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 shortly before 10 a.m. killed four people – the pilot and three people inside the building – and injured five others, authorities said. Four of the five injured people were transported to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis and later released. One remained hospitalized in serious condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Three of the dead are from the Wichita area, authorities said; the fourth is from another country. Names were not released by authorities pending notification of family.
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, who was the only person on board the plane en route to Arkansas, 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 a report from the Federal Aviation Administration.
In statements late Thursday, Air Safety Senior Investigator Leah Yeager of the National Transportation Safety Board described the King Air as “flying low and slow before it entered a left turn” after taking off from Runway One at Mid-Continent, according to witness reports.
“It continued to turn left and then impacted the building,” Yeager said, gesturing to the damaged FlightSafety building.
“The pilot did report that he had a left engine problem, so we’re very interested in what that may be.”
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 of the crash.
“As a party to the investigation, the company is prohibited by NTSB regulation from divulging any information about the accident or investigation,” she said in the statement.
In brief statements near the crash site Thursday afternoon, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer called the loss of life “certainly saddening.”
“Keep these families and these people in your thoughts and prayers,” Brewer said. “This is certainly a tragic moment for our community.”
Three of the bodies were found in one flight simulator inside the building and one was found on the roof, authorities said. The bodies were not removed because of structural concerns with the building, authorities said.
About 100 people normally work in the FlightSafety building at 1851 S. Airport Road. Shortly after the crash, employees who had escaped the building were gathered in a nearby field as authorities tried to determine who was missing.
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 no one was in the room.
FlightSafety is an international aviation training company owned by Berkshire Hathaway with corporate offices in New York City. It provides flight training and has several buildings in Wichita.
Wichita Fire Chief Ron Blackwell said the crash impact left the building so structurally unsound that firefighters were unable to begin retrieval efforts Thursday. Crews were awaiting the arrival of NTSB officials on Thursday evening to assess the site before heading in.
Yeager, one of six NTSB investigators who arrived Thursday evening, confirmed that the building was structurally unsound and said that the NTSB would not begin looking at the aircraft until the building was “safe to enter.”
A structural engineer called out earlier in the day determined “a significant portion of the building is unsafe,” Blackwell said.
Behind him, the east face of the building 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. Once that’s done, firefighters will be allowed to enter the building and begin removing remains, he said.
“That will likely be a long and complicated process,” Blackwell said.
Some assessment was expected to be done Thursday night, but “the real work will probably begin at daylight” Friday, Blackwell added.
In the meantime, Yeager said, the NTSB has started collecting information about the pilot – including his background and maintenance log books – is working with air traffic control and is gathering information on weather conditions at the time of the crash.
After the victims’ bodies are removed from the building, NTSB investigators will begin surveying the crash site and get a layout of the plane, she said. The wreckage then will be collected, moved to another location and studied.
A preliminary report from the NTSB is expected within five days. That document, to be posted on the NTSB’s website, www.ntsb.gov, will give basic details of the crash.
Over the next six to nine months, investigators will assess the crash site and airplane wreckage, Yeager said, and issue a more detailed report, including the crash’s cause.
That document could take a year or more to be released.
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 audio tape.
The FAA 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.
The plane gouged a large hole in the building’s northeast corner. The plane crashed on the roof of the company’s north building, FlightSafety International spokesman Steve Phillips said.
“Takeoff was normal until an aircraft emergency was declared,” airport police and fire Chief Roger Xanders said.
The roof of the building burst into flames upon the plane’s impact, according to a witness. The call came in to 911 at 9:49 a.m., a Sedgwick County dispatcher said.
Firefighters engaged in “a horrific firefight for several minutes,” Blackwell said, before crews were pulled out because of 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.
By 1 p.m., the fire was under control and three of the six firetrucks had left the scene. Fire crews were expected to remain at the site overnight to monitor hot spots.
Commercial flights were halted for a short time to allow emergency responders to reach the crash site, said Wichita Police Deputy Chief John Speer.
This was the first fatal crash on Mid-Continent property since three people died in 2000 when a business jet crashed shortly after takeoff.
Anyone who witnessed Thursday’s crash or has video footage of the crash was asked by city officials to call 316-946-4710.
One witness, Brian Youngers, said he was across the street from the building talking to the manager of an avionics repair company at the time of the crash.
“We heard this ‘vroom,’ ” he said. “It was way too loud, way too close. We were like, ‘Holy crap.’ ”
Another witness, Lana Johnson, said she had just stepped outside the post office, which is less than half a mile north of the crash site, when she heard a sound.
“I’ve never heard a sound like that,” she said.
Johnson said it was a loud, muffled noise, as if someone had just dropped pots and pans.
She saw thick billowing smoke and soon heard sirens.
“It’s a sad sight,” Johnson said. “It’s sad to think that people were trapped in there.”
A postal employee who works at the nearby post office saw the plane go down.
The man, who would not give his name, said the plane was banking and turning. The plane’s nose was down about 15 degrees, came up level and then crashed, he said.
“I knew it was at the wrong place at the wrong time because it was way, way too low,” he said. “I saw it impact. It immediately went to flames.”
Contributing: Suzanne Tobias, Amy Renee Leiker and Jerry Siebenmark of The Eagle