Burrell students, two others hurt in small plane crash

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A small aircraft carrying two middle school students on a field trip skidded off the runway at Rock Airport in West Deer and went down a steep embankment this morning, injuring all on board, including the pilot and a flight instructor.

West Deer police Chief Jon Lape said the plane was attempting to take off shortly before 10 a.m. PennDOT workers who saw the crash from a facility nearby reported seeing the plane's wheels leave the ground, but then it set back down and continued down the runway. The plane fish-tailed as it approached the end of the runway. It traveled about 200 feet after reaching the end of the runway, then went down an embankment, where it rolled another 100 feet before stopping.

The workers were first to the scene and made sure the engine of the aircraft, a Beechcraft Bonanza, was shut off as it continued to leak fuel.

"They definitely went above and beyond their call of duty," said Alvin P. Henderson, acting chief of county emergency services.

Firefighters had to extract two of the occupants from the plane using rope, said Mark Lovey, assistant chief of West Deer EMS.

The students, a 13-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy,were from Charles Huston Middle School in the Burrell School District. They were on a field trip with several other students. The plane had already taken one group up this morning before it crashed.

One student was flown to Allegheny General Hospital with head trauma. Mr. Lovey said he was in an "altered state of consciousness."

The other was described as "walking wounded" and was taken by ambulance to AGH.

The 15-year-old boy likely will require surgery, said Dr. Allan Philp, trauma medical director at AGH. He declined to elaborate.

The 57-year-old pilot, a man, was taken to UPMC Presbyterian with a head injury. The other adult, a 42-year-old man, was taken by ambulance to AGH. The school district identified him as Shaun Reddick, a science teacher at the middle school.

Dr. Philp said the other teen and the teacher suffered cuts and bruises and would be released today or tomorrow.

Firefighters from several departments and the county Hazmat Team were standing by because about a hundred gallons of aviation fuel had leaked from the plane.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating, said spokeswoman Arlene Salac. The agency's findings will be forwarded to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The plane is a five-seater manufactured in 1977.

Burrell School District Assistant Superintendent Michael Loughead said the pair were among 34 students and two teachers taking part in a "Young Eagles" field trip designed to explore the science of aviation. The district has participated in the field trips without incident for years, he said, and several children took flights this morning without any problems with the aircraft.

The students had parental permission and other typical field trip precautions before going on the trip -- in fact the district used the parental contact information given before the trip to quickly notify the parents of the injured students, whereupon they met them at the hospital emergency room, Mr. Loughead said. Guidance counselors were also on hand to support the 32 other students when they returned to school from the airport.

The school district is insured against such accidents, the assistant superintendent said.

More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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