At least two killed when plane crashes on takeoff

Updated: November 29, 2004, 4:06 PM ET news services

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol and his college-aged son emerged from the fiery wreckage of a corporate jet after it crashed during takeoff and burst into flames, killing two crew members.

Ebersol's younger son was presumed dead, a coroner's official said Monday.

Dick Ebersol
APThe plane's wreckage, in this Sunday photo, is still covered with snow, making it difficult for crews to comb through it.

The 18-seat charter jet 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 lightened up before the plane prepared to depart for South Bend, Ind., where Ebersol's son Charles is a senior at Notre Dame.

A witness said the impact ripped the cockpit from the fuselage, and that Charles Ebersol helped his 57-year-old father to safety through the front of the plane.

A second son, 14-year-old Edward, was missing, Denver NBC affiliate KUSA-TV reported. The station said crews searched by helicopter and on the ground, but that even "Teddy" Ebersol's plane seat could not be found.

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.

Ebersol's wife, actress Susan Saint James, was not on the plane, the station said. The family lives in Connecticut.

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 roadway that ripped the cockpit from the fuselage, leaving it an unrecognizable wreck. The Denver Post reported that the jet lifted off briefly before crashing.

Distel said Charles helped his father through the front of the plane and that the pair were walking around outside the wreckage as Distel and an airport official arrived. He said Ebersol didn't say a word as 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 airport official yelled into the wreckage for survivors, but heard none. The wreckage left a burning trail of jet fuel and burst into flames, forcing Distel and other rescuers to get away.

The younger man was able to climb into an ambulance while Ebersol was loaded onto a stretcher, Distel said.

The Ebersols -- Dick, Charles and Edward

Linda McCool, a nursing supervisor at Montrose Memorial Hospital, said three men were brought to the hospital after the crash, but had all been transferred to other hospitals by Sunday afternoon. Dan Prinster, vice president of St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, said two people were moved there from Montrose Memorial. Neither McCool nor Prinster would release any other information on the survivors.

The crash occurred in an area covered with small brush and cedar trees, sheriff's Communications Supervisor David Learned said. A large drainage ditch also is at the site.

A storm hit much of the state over the weekend and dumped more than 3 feet of snow in the area, but it was not known if weather was a factor in the crash.

The plane sat on the ground for about an hour and was not de-iced, Steve McLaughlin of MTJ Air Services told the Post.

Pilots of private aircraft make such decisions, an airport official said.

The plane was on its way to South Bend, Ind. The plane's tail number was N873G, identifying it as a CL-602 Challenger, which could hold up to 19 passengers. It was registered to Jet Alliance of Millville, N.J. The company offered its condolences in a statement, but said it had no additional information.

Investigators from the FAA and National Safety Transportation Board were en route to the airport, 185 miles southwest of Denver.

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

Ebersol worked as an ABC researcher at the Grenoble Olympics in 1968. That began his love affair with the multisport event. He was a protege of Roone Arledge and carried on his philosophy of presenting the Olympics via 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."

Charles Ebersol is a senior at the University of Notre Dame.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.