Missouri Gov. Killed In Plane Crash

Tuesday, October 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Missouri Governor Gov. Mel Carnahan, killed in a plane crash 25 miles south of St. Louis.

GOLDMAN, Mo. (AP) — Gov. Mel Carnahan, the Democratic candidate in one of the most hotly contested U.S. Senate races in the country, was killed when the plane shuttling him to a campaign rally crashed in rainy, foggy weather.

The Cessna 335, believed to have been carrying Carnahan, his son Roger and the governor's campaign adviser Chris Sifford, went down Monday night 25 miles south of St. Louis. They had been en route to a rally for Carnahan, 66, who was engaged in a heated battle with Republican Sen. John Ashcroft.

There were no survivors, Jerry Nachtigal, the governor's spokesman, said. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive Tuesday in St. Louis.

``We found wreckage in very small pieces spread over a large area. We have found some remains we cannot identify at this point,'' said Capt. Ed Kemp of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.

Catherine Hanaway, Missouri coordinator for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said discussions were under way about whether Tuesday's final presidential debate, in St. Louis, should be postponed or canceled.

Frank Sifford, cousin of Chris Sifford, 37, said the family was told all three men had died and that Roger Carnahan, 44, was flying the plane.

``They're taking it real hard,'' said Sifford, a Stoddard County commissioner. ``It's such a tragedy for such outstanding people. It's heartbreaking. It's a very tough time.''

Ashcroft's campaign immediately suspended all advertising ``out of respect for Governor Carnahan and his family,'' Ashcroft campaign manager David Ayres said.

The NTSB said the twin-engine plane, a six-seater, was registered to a law firm where Roger Carnahan was a partner.

Carnahan had been expected at the campaign rally at 8 p.m. in New Madrid, about 125 miles south of the crash site, which was thick with trees, scattered farm houses and fields.

State Sen. Jerry Howard, who was at the rally, said Roy Temple, executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, got a page around 8 p.m. from Sifford. Sifford told Temple that the governor's plane had encountered lightning and was going to return to St. Louis or Jefferson City, Howard said.

Tom Hunter, who lives near the crash site, told St. Louis TV station KMOV he heard the plane flying overhead.

``I thought, 'What a crazy person in this kind of weather.' Next thing, sounded like it was in a very steep dive, the engine was just screaming,'' Hunter said.

He said he heard a loud explosion and the sky turned red. ``That was it,'' Hunter said. ``It was total silence. I told my wife to call 911.''

Carnahan won his first public election at age 26 as a municipal judge in his hometown of Rolla. He was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives two years later and served two terms before becoming state treasurer.

In 1988, Carnahan was elected lieutenant governor. In 1992, he won the governor's office in a landslide, and he won a second term in 1996. He was barred by state law from seeking a third consecutive term as governor.

``Governor Carnahan always believed public service was a noble calling,'' Nachtigal said. ``We will miss him dearly.''

President Clinton called Carnahan's wife, Jean, from Egypt where he was meeting with Mideast leaders to express condolences. The couple had four children.

``He's known him for a long time. They've worked together on a lot of issues,'' Clinton spokesman Jake Siewart said.

In 1976, another Senate challenger in Missouri, state Rep. Jerry Litton, died in a plane crash as he and his family were flying to a victory celebration the night he won the Democratic nomination.

The last governor to die in office was Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles on Dec. 12, 1998. The 68-year-old collapsed while exercising in the governor's mansion gymnasium. South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson died in 1993 when the state's airplane slammed into a silo in eastern Iowa.

Carnahan's name will stay on the Nov. 7 ballot because the deadline for changing it was Oct. 13, Secretary of State Bekki Cook said.

The candidates for governor are Democratic State Treasurer Bob Holden and Republican Rep. Jim Talent.

Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson will serve out the remainder of Carnahan's term, until Jan. 8. Under the state Constitution, his title is acting governor.

If more voters cast ballots for Carnahan than Ashcroft on Nov. 7, Cook said, a vacancy would occur in the Senate seat when Ashcroft's current term ends Jan. 3. Wilson, a Democrat, would have constitutional authority to appoint a senator to fill the vacancy through the November 2002 general election, when the seat would be up for election, Cook said.


On the Net:

Missouri State Government: http://www.gov.state.mo.us

National Governors' Association: http://www.nga.org/subtocnga.htm


HOMETOWN: Rolla, Mo.; born in Birch Tree, Mo.

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in business administration from George Washington University; law degree from University of Missouri-Columbia

PROFESSIONAL: Served as agent in the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations during the Korean War; Rolla municipal judge, 1960; state representative, 1962-66; majority floor leader, Missouri House, 1964-66; state treasurer, 1980-84; lieutenant governor, 1988-92; Missouri governor, 1992-present

PERSONAL: Married to Jean; children: Roger, Russ, Robin and Tom; two grandchildren