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Searchers recover bodies, flight recorder in Arkansas plane crash

Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2002

LITTLE ROCK (AP) -- The bodies of three people, including an Alaskan, were recovered Wednesday, two days after their twin-engine plane crashed in rugged terrain in western Arkansas.

The Beechcraft 1900-C was traveling Monday from Wichita, Kan., when it disappeared from radar. It crashed north of Mena in the Fourche Mountains a few miles from the Ouachita National Recreational Trail.

The rugged terrain and foggy weather delayed search-and-rescue teams from quickly reaching the 2,400-foot elevation where the plane crashed.

Employees of Anchorage-based Hageland Aviation Services said the company's president Ron Tweto, 40, was among those who died.

Also killed in the crash were pilot John ''Jack'' McFarlane, 64, of Wichita, and James ''Jim'' Hennings, 42, of San Antonio, according to Raytheon Corporation, which owned the plane.

The three were taking a pre-purchase flight, according to Hageland's director of operations. They also were reportedly planning to pick up the craft's maintenance records in Mena.

The flight recorder was recovered and turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Polk County Sheriff Mike Oglesby, who headed the search, expressed sympathy Wednesday for the victims' families and thanked rescuers who helped ''in bringing this tragedy to a close.''

Oglesby's office learned Monday about 6:40 p.m. that the plane was missing. Jim Stevens, incident commander of the Civil Air Patrol, said his office was called in to help about 8 p.m. that night.

CAP planes searched a 30-mile radius in the dark trying to pick up the downed plane's emergency locator transmitter and found a faint transmitter signal by 1 a.m. Tuesday.

But after that, said Mike Sellers, aviation manager for the Arkansas Forestry Commission in Malvern, it would have been almost impossible to search the densely wooded area.

''If you're in the military and you have night-vision capability you might be able to do something,'' Sellers said. ''But on the civilian side ... there's nothing you could do.''

After resuming their efforts, searchers spotted part of the airplane around 10 a.m. Tuesday, but had to suspend their efforts seven hours later when fog cut visibility to 30 feet and the sun was going down.

By then, searchers also knew there were no survivors, Stevens said.

''It was obvious, it was a search-and-recovery effort,'' he said, adding that if they had any hope of finding someone alive, the search would not have been suspended.

To add to their stress, while rescuers were coming off the mountain after suspending the search for the day, a member of the Polk County volunteer fire department suffered a heart attack.

The 52-year-old man, whose name was not released, was in stable condition Wednesday at the Mena Medical Center.

When the effort resumed Wednesday morning, searchers faced about a 1,000-foot climb to get to the crash site.

Stevens said one team tried to climb up to the site while another reached the top of the mountain ridge from the other side and tried to climb down to it. They reached the site around noon.

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