RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. -- A DC-8 cargo plane plunged into an auction yard of junked cars, killing three people aboard and leaving a quarter-mile-long trail of burning debris.
Authorities said the pilot of Emery Worldwide Flight 17 reported that its cargo shifted shortly after takeoff Wednesday evening.
The plane, its balance disrupted, tried to return to Mather Field for an emergency landing and crashed in a fireball about a mile east of the field just before 8 p.m.
One witness said the plane, bound for Dayton, Ohio, hit the ground belly first and was immediately surrounded by fire. Nobody on the ground was injured.
The crew members were dead by the time fire crews arrived, said American River Fire Capt. Dan Haverty.
The crash at the Insurance Auto Auctions salvage yard set as many as 200 cars on fire, many with gas in their tanks, causing several explosions. Firefighters were hampered by intense flames, which burned for several hours after the crash. Smoke was visible in the moonlit night several miles away.
The victims were identified today as captain Kevin Stables, 43, of Berlin, N.Y.; first officer George Land, 35, of Placerville, Calif., and second officer Russell Hicks, 38, of Sparks, Nev.
It was the first fatal accident in the company's 50-year history, Emery spokesman James Allen said.
The plane was carrying 62,000 pounds of cargo including clothing, automatic transmission fluid and a small number of fuses used to detonate automobile air bags -- 9 grams worth, or about a third of an ounce, Allen said. Its capacity was 90,000 pounds.
The plane was one of 38 DC-8 models in Emery's fleet. The company had no immediate plans to ground the other planes, Allen said. The McDonnell Douglas DC-8 has two engines mounted on each wing. The model went into service in 1959, and production ended in 1972.
The flight took off at 7:50 p.m. and the pilot immediately called back to the airfield's departure control and told them he had a severe problem with the aircraft's balance, said Jim Whitehead, manager of the Federal Aviation Administration's regional operations center in Los Angeles.
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