ELECTRICAL failure likely cause of fatal OSU plane crash

Saturday, July 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ An electrical failure likely caused key instruments to malfunction and cause the crash of a plane carrying 10 people associated with Oklahoma State University's basketball program, the Tulsa World newspaper reports.

A source familiar with the investigation of the fatal crash told the newspaper that the plane's altimeter, which tells how high above sea level the plane is flying, was found in the wreckage stuck at 23,220 feet. The source, who spoke to the World on condition of anonymity for a report in Saturday's editions, said that seems to indicate an electrical failure.

Reports by the National Transportation Safety Board are expected to be made public as early as next week, said Paul Schlamm, an NTSB spokesman. The reports aren't expected to determine a final cause but will contain facts surrounding various aspects of the Jan. 27 crash, including the weather and condition of the wreckage, Schlamm said.

The NTSB will analyze the reports in determining what caused the accident.

The Beechcraft King Air 200 was one of three planes carrying the OSU team back to Stillwater after a game in Boulder against the University of Colorado.

It left the Jefferson County Airport, between Denver and Boulder, in light snow about 6 p.m. and crashed in a field near Byers, Colo., about 35 minutes later.

The crash killed OSU reserve players Daniel Lawson and Nate Fleming; Oklahoma City sportscaster Bill Teegins; OSU media relations coordinator Will Hancock; student assistant Jared Weiberg; director of basketball operations Pat Noyes; athletic trainer Brian Luinstra; radio producer Kendall Durfey and pilots Denver Mills and Bjorn Falstrom.

The aircraft transponder, part of its radar detection equipment, stopped sending its ``discreet'' code shortly before the aircraft began its downward spiral, the investigation has determined. The last code was sent by the transponder at 23,200 feet.

According to the source, the plane apparently was flying in the clouds, because the tops of the clouds at that location were about 25,000 feet. That would have required Mills, the pilot, to rely solely on instruments to know the plane's orientation, the source said.

``Other flight instruments which enable the pilots to know the orientation of the plane without reference to the horizon . 5/8. 5/8. would also have failed when the electrical failure occurred, including lights on the instrument panel,'' the source told the newspaper.

The plane could have been flown with a few nonelectric instruments, including a magnetic compass and a vacuum-operated ``artificial horizon,'' the source said.

The apparent electrical failure could have been caused by a mechanical problem, pilot error or an external source such as a lightning strike, but the source said meteorological data from the crash date seem to rule out a lightning strike.