Investigators work through wreckage of crash that killed 18

Saturday, March 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) _ A charter jet carrying business partners to a lavish weekend birthday party in Aspen slammed into a hillside 35 seconds after the pilot told the control tower the runway was in sight, investigators said.

With no flight data recorder to work from, federal investigators at the crash scene were searching the wreckage for details they hoped would explain what happened in the seconds before the Gulfstream III crashed. All 18 people on board were killed.

Robert New, a 36-year-old financier, was among the passengers, his brother, Jonathan New said in Saturday's Rocky Mountain News.

Jonathan New said his brother had planned the party for his business partner, Mario Aguilar, and 13 others. He said Aguilar's mother, aunt and two brothers were on the plane when it went down.

Robert New ``was renting a jet, renting a beautiful house. There was a catered dinner waiting,'' Jonathan New said. He said his brother and Aguilar were partners in Prestige Automobiles, a luxury rental car business in Beverly Hills, and New had some entertainment interests in Los Angeles.

Robert New owned homes in Snowmass, Colo., Miami and Beverly Hills. His wife, Monica, who lives in Snowmass with their 9-year-old son, Matthew, said her husband planned to spend time with them this weekend.

She said she had left a car for him at the airport and had to take a detour home because of the crash. She said she didn't learn until reached home that the plane that crashed had been carrying her husband.

Carol Carmody, the National Transportation Safety Board's acting chairwoman, said investigators were considering several possible reasons for Thursday's crash, including the snowy weather.

She said the plane's left wing hit the ground first, moments after radio transmissions indicated that the runway lights were on and the pilot saw the landing strip. No distress calls were reported.

``Fifty-five seconds after the hour, the pilot said `Yes, I have the runway in sight,' and that was the last transmission from the pilot,'' Carmody said.

The Los Angeles Times, citing sources close to the investigation, reported in Saturday's editions that the plane had abandoned its initial approach and was making a second attempt when the crash occurred. The Times reported that two other jets, in front and behind the Gulfstream, also missed their first passes and rerouted to another airport.

But NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said there wasn't any sign from radio transmissions of an aborted landing.

``We don't see any indication of that at this point,'' Williams said.

The Gulfstream was owned by Airborne Charter Inc. and its parent Cinergi Pictures Entertainment Inc., producer of the ``Rambo'' movies and ``Total Recall.'' No employees of either company were on board.

Carmody said the plane had been used in Ivory Coast in West Africa until an accident in 1988. She did not elaborate. The plane was purchased by Gulfstream and was repaired in 1989, after which it was sold to Airborne Charter.

The twin-engine jet left Burbank, Calif., and made a stop at Los Angeles International before heading to Aspen. Just after 7 p.m., the jet crashed, skidded across a culvert and hit a bluff 500 yards short of the airport.

The National Weather Service reported light snow at the time of the crash, and visibility dropped from 10 miles to less than two miles in about 20 minutes just before the plane went down.

Even in clear weather, the airport is one of the nation's trickiest for pilots. Its single runway is surrounded by mountains that force approaching aircraft to make steep descents.

Avjet Corp., which managed and maintained the Gulfstream, said plane's captain, Bob Frisbie, regularly flew to Aspen and had 10,000 hours of flight time.

Al Dickinson, head of the NTSB team examining the crash, said both pilots had the highest rating possible.