Six Americans Killed in Plane Crash

Sunday, October 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ENSENADA, Mexico (AP) — A small airplane crashed Saturday near a Mexican military base in Baja California state, killing six Americans working with a volunteer doctors group, police and the doctors organization said.

The plane, flown by the U.S. group Flying Doctors, went down at about 11 a.m. while trying to land at the Area 3 military air base outside Ensenada, a coastal city about 50 miles south of the border with California, said police official Jesus Luna. No one on the ground was hurt, he said.

The twin-engine plane, a six-seat Cessna 320E, crashed in a residential area near the airport as it tried to land, said police Subcmdr. Rosario Flores Rojas. He said it narrowly missed several houses and went down in an empty lot.

Four women and two men, all northern California residents, were aboard, said Dr. Stephen Los, a dentist and president of the group's Monterey, Calif., chapter. Names were withheld because relatives were still being notified, he said.

``I'm pretty shocked by the whole thing,'' Los said.

Monty Finefrock, a pilot and president of the Los Gatos, Calif., chapter of the group, said the six passengers had been at a seminar focused on building a working relationship with Mexico, where the group provides free medical care.

The government news agency Notimex quoted police Cmdr. Jesus Eduardo Velez as saying the plane was leaking fuel and caught on fire after rescue workers arrived at the crash site, less than a half-mile from the airport runway. But Rojas said he didn't believe the plane caught fire. Television broadcasts showed most of the white-colored plane intact with catastrophic damage to the nose. There did not appear to be any smoke or flame damage on the wreckage.

Air base Cmdr. Sergio Alejandro Escobar told Notimex the plane was en route from San Ignacio, about 400 miles south of Ensenada, and had received authorization to land from the control tower.

Rojas said the crew never reported an emergency, but that the plane appeared to have been having engine trouble prior to the crash.

However, a co-owner of the airplane told The Associated Press Saturday night that he was told the aircraft was having trouble with its landing gear.

``My understanding is that the landing gear did not lock down and they were flying past the control tower so (the tower) could check to see if the gear was down. The pilot somehow lost control,'' said John A. Linford of Piedmont, Calif.

The downed plane had a blue stripe and a brown stripe, was built in 1967, was recently inspected and was in very good condition, Linford said.

``The annual inspection was done about a month ago and the airplane was in excellent condition. Why it crashed just doesn't make sense to me,'' he said.

The skies were clear and there wasn't a strong wind, Rojas said.

A witness to the accident, Romel Ramirez, who was working at a factory nearby, told Notimex that he saw the airplane do a somersault in the air and then heard the engine cut out.

In May, three Northern California volunteers for a medical assistance group died when their single-engine plane plunged into the Pacific Ocean on a return trip from a weekend mission in Baja California.