Remains of Passengers From Crash Removed from Croatian MountainBy John Pomfret and Blaine Harden
The Washington Post
The remains of Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown, a dozen American business executives and at least 20 other passengers were being carried Thursday off a storm-swept Croatian mountaintop where their military jet crashed and disintegrated on Wednesday, leaving no survivors.
Working near the Adriatic Sea amid another day of the driving rains and high winds that are believed to have contributed to the crash, American, Croatian and French soldiers collected bodies scattered across a rocky site that straddles a 2,300-foot peak called St. John's Hill.
The Air Force T-43A passenger plane carrying Brown, who was escorting business leaders on a mission to assess possible postwar reconstruction of Bosnia and Croatia, was badly off course at the coastal airport near the ancient port city of Dubrovnik, according to Peter Galbraith, the U.S. ambassador to Croatia.
The aircraft, a military version of a Boeing 737 on a short flight from the Bosnian city of Tuzla, "was not where it should have been," Galbraith said. He told a news conference at the Dubrovnik airport that the plane "seems to have flown up not along the coast, but along a valley one ridge over."
The Dubrovnik airport, sandwiched between the sea and the jagged mountains of the Dalmatian Coast, lies in the most seaward of three parallel valleys that cut back northeastward into the mountains.
The airport has a radio system allowing instrument landings in bad weather, and five planes landed safely before the crash. But the airport lacks the more sophisticated and reliable landing devices that are common in U.S. airports.
"It's on a shelf - you have to hit it pretty right - and when there's low visibility, it can be dangerous," Galbraith said, adding that the weather at the time of the crash was "the worst in a decade."
Croatian aviation experts said the two pilots, flying on instruments and unable to see the ground, at some point after their final approach for landing apparently shifted north into St. John's Hill rather than funneling into the most westerly valley that leads to the airport.
Radar on a NATO monitoring plane tracking the flight showed it started the 12-mile descent into the airport correctly. Asked why the plane might have steered north, experts familiar with the instruments on the plane speculated that it could have been pilot error or faulty equipment - all aggravated by gusty winds and possibly lightning.
The Air Force said the chief pilot, Capt. Ashley Davis, 35, and copilot, Capt. Timothy Schafer, 33, were experienced with the aircraft. Davis had been flying the plane out of its base in Ramstein, Germany. Schafer had arrived in Ramstein only four months ago but flew T-43As for several years in the early 1990s while stationed in California.