NBC executive Dick Ebersol survives jet plane crash that kills two; son still missing

Monday, November 29th 2004, 10:36 am

By: News On 6

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) _ NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol and his college-age son emerged from the wreckage of a chartered jet after the plane crashed while taking off and killed two crew members. Rescuers were still searching for Ebersol's younger son, whose seat was missing from the smoldering ruins.

The 18-seat aircraft with six people on board crashed Sunday morning at Montrose Regional Airport in southwest Colorado, not far from the Telluride Ski Area. A heavy snowstorm had eased up before the plane prepared to take off for South Bend, Ind., where Ebersol's son Charles is a senior at the University of Notre Dame, but there was no immediate word if the weather was a factor in the crash.

A witness said the plane slid sideways into a road and the impact ripped the cockpit from the fuselage, and that Charles Ebersol helped his 57-year-old father through the gap.

The pilot and a flight attendant were killed, said Michael O'Connor, regional duty officer with the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington state. The co-pilot was hospitalized in Denver, while Dick and Charles Ebersol were hospitalized in Grand Junction, witnesses said.

A second son, 14-year-old Edward, was missing. Denver NBC affiliate KUSA-TV said crews searched by helicopter and on the ground, but that even ``Teddy'' Ebersol's plane seat could not be found. The Montrose County Sheriff's Department, which handled the initial search, referred calls to police on Monday. A police spokesman did not immediately respond to a call.

Ebersol's wife of 23 years, ``Kate and Allie'' and ``McMillan and Wife'' star Susan Saint James, was not on the plane. The family lives in Connecticut.

Kevin Sullivan, NBC Universal's vice president for sports communication, told the Rocky Mountain News late Sunday that Saint James would have ``no comment at this time. She requested privacy, and she is at the hospital with Dick and Charlie,'' Sullivan said.

Eyewitness Chuck Distel told The Associated Press by phone that he was driving on a highway parallel to the runway when he saw the plane skid sideways through a fence and brush before hitting a road that ripped the cockpit from the fuselage. The Denver Post said the plane had lifted off briefly before crashing.

Distel said Charles helped his father through the front of the plane and that the pair were walking around when Distel and an airport official arrived. He said Ebersol didn't say a word but the younger man cried and yelled ``Oh, my God! Oh, my God!''

``I had to think for a second, 'who are these people?''' he said. ``They weren't severely injured, they were in shock.'' Distel said Charles was able to climb into an ambulance, while the elder Ebersol was loaded onto a stretcher.

The wreckage burst into flames, forcing Distel and other rescuers to get away.

Linda McCool, a nursing supervisor at Montrose Memorial Hospital, said three men were taken to the hospital and later transferred to other hospitals. Dan Prinster, vice president of St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, said two people were moved there and a third was flown to a burn unit in Denver. Neither McCool nor Prinster would release any other information on the survivors, and the name of the Denver hospital was not given.

NBC Sports spokesman Mike McCarley said he had no new information on the survivors.

A weekend storm that covered most of the state dumped more than 3 feet of snow in the Montrose area and Distel said there was light snow and fog at the time of the crash. It was not known if weather was a factor and investigators from the FAA and National Safety Transportation Board were en route to the airport, 185 miles southwest of Denver.

The Montrose airport is one of several that serves Telluride, a popular ski destination for celebrities.

The plane was identified as a CL-602 Challenger, which could hold up to 19 passengers, registered to Jet Alliance of Millville, N.J. The company offered its condolences but said it had no additional information.

Known as a television innovator, Ebersol has a long history at NBC.

He became the network's director of late-night programming in 1974 and replaced Lorne Michaels for a rocky tenure as executive producer of ``Saturday Night Live'' in the early 1980s. Ebersol, of Litchfield, Conn., became president of NBC Sports in 1989 and recently signed a contract that keeps him at the network through 2012.

Ebersol is best-known for his love affair with the Olympics. A protege of Olympics-coverage pioneer Roone Arledge, he worked as an ABC researcher at the 1968 Grenoble Winter Games and carried on Arledge's philosophy of presenting the Olympics through storytelling, rather than emphasizing results.

``He is very innovative,'' Fox Sports chairman David Hill said Sunday. ``He's obviously a great leader and, from my perspective, a very worthy competitor.''

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