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Published: Thursday, 2/9/2006

Toledo-based plane crashes in Tennessee

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Abdulgader Zbedah, 42, of Louisville, was alone aboard a twin-engine Swearingen Metroliner turbo-prop on a cargo flight, according to information that TriCoastal Air Inc. released to the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

TriCoastal is the current operating entity of Grande Aire Inc., the Toledo Express Airport-based charter carrier.

The crash was the fourth fatal accident in four years involving Grand Aire or TriCoastal flights, with seven aviators killed, including the company's co-founder and president, Tahir Cheema, who died in a crash near St. Louis 14 1/2 months ago. The other fatal crashes occurred in 2002 and 2003.

The TriCoastal flight from Dayton to Harlingen, Texas, crashed at 1:10 p.m. Toledo time in a wooded area near Paris, Tenn., a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration's regional office in Atlanta said.

Staff at the TriCoastal Air/Grand Aire office at Toledo Express had no further comment last night, referring calls to the port authority. Brian Schwartz, that agency's spokesman, said he had no additional information. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are both investigating the crash.

Witnesses told the Paris Post-Intelligencer, a local newspaper, that the plane circled twice, went into a dive, pulled out for a second, and then crashed.

"I stepped out and saw it," said Michael Jeffrey, who owns a house on property next to the crash site. "The [plane's] nose dived straight as an arrow. I saw the explosion and said, 'Oh my God, call 911.' I even went out there to try to see if I could help someone, but there was no one to help."

Lt. Eddie Crosser, of the Henry County, Tennessee, sheriff's office, said the plane crashed about 100 yards behind a mobile home and burrowed 10 to 15 feet into the ground. The impact obliterated the aircraft, he said.

"If you didn't know it was an airplane, you wouldn't be able to tell," Lieutenant Crosser said.

While light snow fell in the area beforehand and rain developed afterward, local weather at the time of the crash was dry, he said.

According to FAA registration information, the plane belonged to TriCoastal at an address in Wilmington, Del. It was built in 1980.

Paris is about 85 miles west of Nashville and near the Tennessee border with Kentucky.

The other crashes:

●On July 18, 2002, a Piper PA-60 landing in heavy fog at 3:45 a.m. crashed in a grassy area near a runway at Columbus, Ind., killing the pilot. An NTSB investigation blamed the crash on pilot error and fatigue.

●On April 8, 2003, three Grand Aire pilots, including the company's chief pilot, died when a plane on a training flight from Traverse City, Mich., crashed west of Toledo Express. The safety board ruled that a failure by the chief pilot to properly oversee the training flight caused the crash.

●On Nov. 30, 2004, Grand Aire President Tahir Cheema and a co-pilot were killed when a 35-year-old Hansa jet they were flying from Missouri to Toledo on a special "ferry" permit crashed shortly after takeoff from Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield, Mo. An NTSB investigation into the cause of that crash remains open.

Also on April 8, 2003, the two men aboard a Grand Aire flight from Del Rio, Texas, to St. Louis were injured when their plane ran out of fuel and ditched in the Mississippi River.

Except for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it was the first time in U.S. aviation history that a company lost two airplanes on the same day.

The NTSB faulted the crew for failing to divert to another airport when their fuel ran low and for not notifying air-traffic controllers about their fuel situation sooner than they did.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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