An Aeromed air ambulance plane carrying a critically ill patient crashed Monday night in heavy fog as it approached Spokane International Airport. The twin-engine Cessna 401 sliced through the roof of a metal building at 7:15 p.m., killing three of the four people on board.
The fourth, Harold Livingston Jr., 24, was in critical condition at Sacred Heart Medical Center with broken bones and burns over 30 percent of his body. Livingston, a medical technician who was a member of the crew, is a resident of Finley, Wash.
The crash sparked “a massive fire and several explosions,” Federal Aviation Administration investigator Larry Richards said.
Peter Seahmer, who works nearby, felt the ground shake when the plane crashed into the Ace Tank & Equipment Co. building.
A manager at Dominion Zinc, Seahmer ran outside to see flames leaping from the 24-foot-high steel building.
“It was a big flame,” he said. “I’m just glad it wasn’t my building.”
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Department said the crash damaged a gas main in the Ace Tank building, feeding the fire. The blaze eventually was extinguished and the gas was turned off.
Seahmer said two men who had witnessed the crash asked him for a sledgehammer. One said he had heard cries for help from a man trapped in the wreckage.
Fifteen employees had left the building about an hour before the crash, said Jim Claypool, an Ace manager.
“I’m thankful that our people were out but saddened about the people on the plane,” said company president Allan Reese of Seattle.
Fog was thickening at the West Plains airport at the time of the crash, but investigators said they do not yet know whether that had contributed to the accident.
The air ambulance flight, with the radio code name “Lifeguard,” gave no indication of any problems prior to the crash, said an air traffic controller at the Spokane tower.
FAA investigators were at the crash scene Monday night.
It was the second crash in five days involving planes landing at the Spokane airport. On Jan. 4, a Salair cargo plane crashed near Hayford and Geiger roads. The two-member crew walked away from the wreckage.
On Monday night, the airport tower apparently got a signal indicating a downed plane as neighbors heard the crash and began calling 911, Sheriff’s Lt. David Wiyrick said.
The Aeromed flight was transferring a patient from Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Pasco to Deaconess Medical Center. The patient was scheduled to travel to Deaconess by ambulance as soon as the plane landed.
Gladys Jimeno, an administrative supervisor at Deaconess, said she couldn’t discuss the treatment the patient was to receive. But patients using an air-ambulance service are typically in very serious or critical condition, and need medical care not available at smaller hospitals.
The Ace Tank building is steel with a concrete floor, and serves as the Spokane home for Seattle-based Ace Tank and Equipment, which makes steel tanks for storing gasoline and other chemicals.
Ace began leasing the 10,000-square-foot steel building about 2-1/2 years ago, Reese said.
The structure was built in 1977 as part of the Airways Industrial Park, said Fred Welk, owner of the park.
Inside, are three large overhead cranes and a flatbed truck on which the plane apparently came to rest before it caught fire and exploded.
The building originally was home to The Community Press, a weekly newspaper that has gone out of business.
Since then, it’s been occupied by a number of businesses, including Yielder No-Till Drill and Gordon Metal Products, Welk said.
An explosion in July destroyed another of industrial park’s buildings. The explosion occurred in machinery that turns chipped tires into bulk oil at International Tyre Cycle.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo; Map of accident area
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Jim Camden and Gita Sitaramiah Staff writers Staff writer Dan Hansen contributed to this report.