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Sun, Aug 24, 2003

Midair Over Minneapolis

Three Dead, One Hurt

Three people were killed, one injured, when two single-engine aircraft collided in mid-air over Minnesota's Lake Elmo Friday. Witnesses say the Piper PA-28 Cherokee and the Cessna 172 hit almost head-on.

"I looked up toward the east and I saw they were almost nose to nose, and I saw the crash," witness Michele Revoir said. "It broke up in the air in multiple sections. I thought it was going to crash on our neighbor's house."

Debris from the midair fell to earth at a nearby driving range. Revoir ran toward the crash site to help, while her husband phoned 911.

Marvin Leslie also heard something odd in the skies above. "We heard a propeller stop," Leslie said. "A putt, putt, putt, like it was cutting out. I looked up and saw a plane going across the sky, and all of sudden it dropped straight down." He and two friends spotted the wreckage of the 172 along the side of the road. They ran into the woods to help.

A former Lake Elmo firefighter, Becky Gernes, ran down her driveway and into her woods, toward the cries for help. She found a scared-looking young man among the wreckage who told her his name was Jason. "I just told him he was going to be OK." Gernes could smell fuel all around her as the sole survivor of the midair identified body of his flight instructor among the wreckage. "If he makes it, that's a miracle. The plane was just a heap of metal. There was a lot of glass," Gernes said.

The young man who survived may have those trees to thank, said Paul Haskins, Michele Revoir's husband. "I think the trees broke the fall." A Lake Elmo 911 dispatcher says her office was swamped with more than 100 calls reporting the midair and the resulting crashes. Law officers said the occupants of both aircraft did not appear to be the owners. They said both aircraft appeared to have been based in the Minneapolis (MN) metropolitan area.

"What I don't understand is how two planes collide in midair in broad daylight," Gernes said. The FAA and NTSB are investigating.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.ntsb.gov

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