Wellstone pilot considered canceling flight

Cause remains unknown in crash that killed eight

February 22, 2003|By R. Alonso-Zaldivar | R. Alonso-Zaldivar,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON - Three hours before the plane crash that killed Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone last fall, the pilot nearly canceled the flight because of poor weather, federal investigators disclosed yesterday.

"OK, ah, you know what?" pilot Richard Conry told a Federal Aviation Administration weather specialist. "I don't think I'm going to take this flight." But an hour later, after determining that the snowy weather had improved and met acceptable conditions for flying, Conry decided to press on.

The National Transportation Safety Board has not established a cause for the crash Oct. 25, which occurred days before the November elections. But the investigation has raised questions about the flying skills of Conry and copilot Michael Guess, about the procedures used to de-ice the plane, and about the FAA's oversight of aviation charter companies, according to reports released yesterday.

Eight people died in the accident, including the Democratic senator's wife and daughter. The popular liberal was in a tight re-election race, and his death might have contributed to putting the Senate back under Republican control.

The King Air A100 took off in St. Paul about 9:35 a.m. CST and crashed less than 50 minutes later as the pilots were attempting to make an instrument landing at Eveleth, Minn.

The plane did not have a cockpit voice recorder, so the pilots' final words are not known.

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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