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Published: Monday, 5/12/2003

Deadly Fulton Co. plane crash possibly caused by high winds

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
AND GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Ohio State Trooper Kevin Miller investigates the crash of a small plane at Fulton County Airport. Ohio State Trooper Kevin Miller investigates the crash of a small plane at Fulton County Airport.
ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge

WAUSEON - Heavy winds that raked across northwest Ohio and southeastern Michigan yesterday afternoon - toppling power lines and trees - may have played a role in a plane crash at the Fulton County Airport that claimed the lives of two people and critically injured another.

The identities of the two victims - a man and a woman - were unavailable last night. The survivor, a woman, was taken to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center by medical helicopter.

“We are not exactly sure what happened yet, and we are not sure why they were coming through here,” said Steve Rupp, airport manager and owner-operator of Rupp Aviation, Inc.

The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration will send investigators to the scene today, Mr. Rupp said. A check with FAA records showed the plane was registered in suburban Minneapolis.

Winds blew steady at more than 30 mph for much of the day, with gusts over 50 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

The plane, a single-engine B24R Beech Sierra, was spotted on the ground about 3:30 p.m. by a motorist driving on Fulton County Road 13. It was resting in a field 100 yards from the eastern tip of the runway, said Sgt. Mike Wiederman of the Ohio Highway Patrol's Toledo post.

The motorist called Mr. Rupp who investigated the crash site and then called paramedics with Life Flight, which stations a helicopter at the airport. The surviving victim was found outside the aircraft, Sergeant Wiederman said.

Authorities said it was unclear if the four-passenger plane was landing or taking off or when it crashed.

The aircraft, which is registered at Flying Cloud Field in Eden Prairie, Minn., was built in 1974. Officials at the airport flight school there speculated that it was a privately owned aircraft.

Lorelei Carroll, of County Road K, who went to see the crash, said it looked like “the plane was trying to land and the wind just wreaked havoc on them.”

The airport, which typically handles 30 to 50 aircraft a day over the weekends, was closed after the crash and will remain closed until investigators are finished with the scene, Mr. Rupp said.

The heavy winds were part of a series of storms that have brought as much as 2 inches of rain to some parts of the area over the last few days. They were the remnants of a weather system that swept across the plains in the last week, spawning a record number of tornadoes, said Marc Spilde of AccuWeather, Inc., a private weather forecasting firm in State College, Pa.

The gale-force winds took down scores of power lines and toppled old trees made vulnerable because of the wet weather.

Nearly 2,000 homes in Toledo and its surrounding communities were without electricity last night, according to Jennifer Shriver, Toledo Edison's area manager.

The outages, which were concentrated in the West Toledo area and scattered through the city, were mostly caused by fallen trees bringing down electrical lines, Ms. Shriver said.

Downed wires on Corey Road near Monroe Street closed Corey for 90 minutes beginning at 4:30 p.m., according to Sylvania police. A large tree squashed an unoccupied truck on Scottwood Avenue, while another felled tree closed St. Louis Street last night, Toledo Police said.

Around Lucas County, sheriff's deputies said they received numerous calls about downed trees and low-hanging power lines, but said no serious incidents and no weather-related were injuries reported..

“We've been pretty fortunate,” Deputy Mark Petersen said. “It was a lot better than I thought it would be with all the wind.”

The town of Bellevue in Sandusky County was without power much of the afternoon after a power line was felled on County Road 302 near U.S. 20, sheriff's deputies said.

Findlay Police Sgt. Mike May said downed limbs caused a minor power outage in the 900 block of South Main Street yesterday but only a couple of blocks were affected and crews were able to restore power within a few hours.

“[Tree] limbs and lines, they don't get along very well,” Sergeant May said. “There was nobody injured, it was just more of a nuisance than anything else.”

The city of Sandusky had a steady stream of calls came in throughout the day, Sgt. William McPeek said. Heavy winds, although sporadic at times, pounded the Lake Erie coastal city, knocking down tree limbs and power lines, he said.

“We've had vehicles getting struck by trees and limbs and limbs falling into the street blocking traffic,” Sergeant McPeek said.

In Van Wert County, crews were called to two side roads to cut up large trees that fell across them. In Michigan's Hillsdale County, local fire departments were responding to some major limbs on the road.

In Monroe County, fire departments responded to calls of downed lines all afternoon, one summoned to extinguish a blaze that developed when a tree fell into a live wire. Those working in the county's central dispatch said although area departments were battling problems caused by the winds all afternoon - including side roads closed to cut up trees - no injuries or accidents were caused by the wind.

Mr. Spilde said the high winds will continue throughout today before diminishing tonight. More rain is expected before the system moves out of the area tomorrow, he said.

Blade staff writer Erica Blake contributed to this story.



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