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Published: Sunday, 4/13/2003

The long search for answers

What happened to Grand Aire Express - losing not one plane but two, and the lives of three pilots, on the same day - may be unprecedented in commercial aviation. It is imperative that the lengthy federal investigation already under way be comprehensive and definitive, and determine just what caused these two crashes, one in Toledo, one in St. Louis.

Was it a combination of bad weather and tragic bad luck? While it's unpleasant to contemplate, were they the result of human carelessness? Could corporate indifference to maintenance or the rigorous rules of instrument-conditions flying have been a factor?

Difficult questions, but it's critically important they be resolved.

American Airlines and United Airlines each lost two aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001, but those were hijacked aircraft which became missiles of mass destruction. Grand Aire, based at Toledo Express Airport, may be the first domestic airline of any size to lose two planes on the same day in seemingly unrelated accidents.

The National Transportation Safety Board will certainly have many issues to examine as the typically long investigation runs its course.

For one thing, the plane that went down in Oak Openings Preserve Metropark during final approach to Express Airport was built in 1968. All those years of takeoffs and landings may have taken their toll, although properly maintained aircraft can withstand the strain.

That means the maintenance record for the twin-engine Dassault Falcon 20 aircraft will be important to the investigation.

It's also unknown at this point which of the three pilots who died was actually in control of the plane when it went down. One of the three was new to the Falcon 20 and may have been receiving training from one of the other two, not an uncommon practice when a flight has no cargo aboard.

Grand Aire and the families of the two pilots who survived the St. Louis crash can rejoice that their employees or loved ones didn't meet the same fate as the Toledo crew. Putting their plane down in the Mississippi River probably saved their own lives and may well have spared the lives of others on the ground.

We won't jump to any conclusions about either accident at this point; that's what the investigation is for.

But tough questions are part of the inquiry into any plane crash, and we trust that they will be asked, and answered, in due time.

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