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Three bodies, cockpit voice recorder recovered from plane-crash site

On Friday, demolition crews knock down part of the FlightSafety building that a small airplane crashed into Thursday. Federal investigators hope to begin recovering evidence inside the building Saturday. (Oct. 31, 2014)
On Friday, demolition crews knock down part of the FlightSafety building that a small airplane crashed into Thursday. Federal investigators hope to begin recovering evidence inside the building Saturday. (Oct. 31, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

The bodies of three of the four people killed Thursday when a plane crashed into a FlightSafety International building were pulled from the rubble late Friday evening — but that of the pilot will likely not be removed until Saturday, Wichita Fire Marshal Brad Crisp said.

Crisp said Friday evening by phone that the bodies of those trapped inside a simulator in the building were recovered at about 9:30 p.m. The fourth body remained on the roof, he said, amid the wreckage of the plane.

“We had been working on the building for the ... afternoon and throughout the evening,” he said, referencing efforts to stabilize the damaged structure enough to allow firefighters and the coroner inside.

He declined to release the names of the victims.

Also on Friday, authorities recovered the Beechcraft King Air B200’s cockpit voice recorder from the mangled plane at about 5:30 p.m. after lowering someone in a harness into the wreckage, said Peter Knudson, a spokesman with the investigations team from the National Transportation Safety Board.

“We didn’t want to wait until the building was safe to go into,” Knudson said by phone late Friday evening.

“We wanted to get that information as quickly as possible.”

Knudson said the voice recorder will be shipped to Washington D. C., where it will be analyzed and the data added to the investigative record.

“Obviously, we don’t know what’s there yet,” he said.

Federal investigators hope to begin recovering evidence inside the building Saturday. Crews are using extreme caution because of the instability of the FlightSafety International building, 1851 Airport Road in Wichita, after the twin-engine aircraft crashed into its roof mid-morning Thursday. The plane’s pilot and three people inside the building were killed.

As of early Friday evening, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board – the federal agency charged with determining 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, the NTSB’s lead investigator at the scene.

About a quarter of mile behind him, crews were working to stabilize the building, including knocking down some exterior walls.

“The construction crew is going to try and get in there …” he said. “We hope to have access sometime (Saturday).”

Contractors arrived earlier Friday to assess “what needs to be done to render the building safe” for fire crews and NTSB investigators, Crisp, the Wichita fire marshal, said.

Wichita police Lt. James 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 live 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.

A search-and-rescue team was able to gain access to three of the four simulator rooms at FlightSafety, he said, and found three of the victims in one of the rooms. The fourth, the pilot, was on the roof.

“We are relatively confident that there are no bodies in that fourth simulator room,” Crisp said.

There are no people still unaccounted for, authorities have said.

Investigation starts

During his briefing, Lindberg also said that the NTSB has confirmed that there was “some sort of data recorder” on the plane.

The electronic data recorder on board isn’t what’s commonly known as a black box, he said.

“It’s in a different form and isn’t crash hardened,” he added, “but we are hopeful that we will be able to secure it.”

Once found, the recorder will be sent to the NTSB’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., where specialists will search for clues to the cause of the crash, Lindberg said.

Until late Friday afternoon, the only evidence gathering done by the NTSB was outside the 30-foot hazardous perimeter.

“We’ve been able to document and tag quite a bit,” Lindberg said.

Gathering pieces of the plane scattered over a large area of the building is expected to be a challenge, he noted.

The NTSB has found that records show Goldstein had more than 3,000 hours of flying time as of Aug. 14, Lindberg said.

The agency also has determined that the plane underwent two maintenance test flights before Goldstein took off shortly before 10 a.m. Thursday.

“There were no issues with the aircraft that we know of,” Lindberg said. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t have released the aircraft to fly it away.”

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 over to the left side of the runway, and then made a steep left bank before hitting the building on South Airport Road, he said.

The pilot told the air-traffic control tower that he had lost power in his left engine, according to a recorded audiotape of that conversation.

Officials had requested that anyone with 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.

Injured victim

Four of the five people injured in the plane crash have already 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.

“We want to thank everyone for their concern and the excellent care that our son is receiving,” Mans’ mother, Barbara Lanning, said in a statement released through the hospital. “We’ve received tremendous support from Scott’s co-workers at FlightSafety, close friends and members of our extended church families. We appreciate their continued prayers, as we expect Scott to make a full recovery over time.

“For now, we ask that everyone respect our privacy, as our focus right now is on Scott and his well-being and continued recovery.”

Fire crews, who were at the crash scene throughout the night on Thursday, poured a fresh load of water onto the FlightSafety building at about 6 a.m. Friday to help maintain the scene’s integrity for the sake of the upcoming investigation, Espinoza said.

The roads next to the crash site could remain closed for at least three days, Espinoza said.

People who work at or next to Mid-Continent will be allowed to get to their places of employment, Espinoza said, but “they should make sure they have proper ID so they can get where they need to be.”

Two intersections at the airport remain closed as part of the investigation: Airport and Crossfield and Crossfield and Midfield.

Reach Stan Finger at 316-268-6437 or sfinger@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @StanFinger.

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