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Tragedy strikes Ebersol family

Claire Heininger | Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Notre Dame senior Charlie Ebersol survived a plane crash that injured his father, NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, and killed his youngest brother Teddy Ebersol and two crewmen in Montrose, Colo. Sunday.The family said in a release Monday night that Dick and Charlie Ebersol were in stable condition at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Colo. and are expected to make a full recovery, according to Kim Williams, director of public relations at the hospital.The private jet, carrying six people, crashed during takeoff from Montrose Regional Airport at approximately 10 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, according to a press release from the Montrose Fire Protection District (MFPD). The airport is located 185 miles southwest of Denver and serves the Telluride Ski Area. The pilot and a flight attendant of the CL-601 Challenger plane were killed on impact, the Montrose County Coroner’s Office said in a press release. A body matching the description of Teddy Ebersol, 14, was recovered underneath the wreckage at 5 p.m. MST Monday, following an extensive search of the wooded crash site, Montrose Coroner Mark Young told the Montrose Daily Press.The younger Ebersol was ejected from the plane and died instantly, Young said.”He didn’t lay there and suffer,” Young said. “The pilot and flight attendant were both ejected from their seats. The only one not ejected was Mr. Ebersol, and his son, Charles, pulled him out.”Young declined to discuss the condition of Teddy Ebersol’s body out of respect for his family.News reports on the status of the Connecticut boarding school freshman were scattered Sunday as local authorities conducted a search of the area, which is covered by brush and cedar trees and contains a large drainage ditch. At a press conference at the airport Monday morning, broadcast nationally by CNN, Montrose County chief deputy coroner Matt Eilts said Teddy Ebersol was presumed dead and that the investigation had been suspended until representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived on the scene. Another press conference was held at 6 p.m. MST after the body was found.The Ebersols, who own a home nearby, stopped in Colorado to drop off Dick Ebersol’s wife, actress Susan Saint James of 1980s television series “Kate and Allie.” The family was returning to South Bend after a gathering at Saturday’s Notre Dame football game against the University of Southern California, where son Willie Ebersol, 18, is a freshman.The plane skidded sideways after impact, ripping off the cockpit and one of the wings, eyewitness Chuck Distel told the Associated Press. Though it was snowing at the time of the crash, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Allen Kenitzer told the Associated Press he did not know if the weather was a factor.Charlie Ebersol, 21, helped pull his father out through the front of the plane, Distel said.Another eyewitness, Pro Tow employee Doug Percival, ran to the scene after spotting the plane’s tail end going airborne and bursting into flames. “I ran out and Charlie was standing on a dirt hill screaming, ‘My 14-year-old brother’s on the plane, please help him,'” Percival said. “I went around the plane and that’s when I saw the two [crewmembers] and Dick Ebersol.”The NBC executive was unresponsive and appeared “very badly” injured, with his eyes rolled back in his head, Percival said.”I tried to reassure him that help was on the way,” Percival said.Percival told the Associated Press that Dick Ebersol sat numbly rocking back and forth on the snow-covered ground.Aside from a few scrapes on the left side of his face, Charlie Ebersol did not have visible injuries, Percival said.”I think he was just more in shock than anything else,” Percival said, adding the senior grabbed him and told him he had been sitting in the back row of the plane, while his brother had been sitting in the fourth row.Charlie Ebersol was able to climb into an ambulance, Distel told the Associated Press, while Dick Ebersol was loaded onto a stretcher.Charlie and Dick Ebersol were taken to Montrose Memorial Hospital and transferred to St. Mary’s by Sunday afternoon, while a Flight For Life helicopter transported the plane’s co-pilot, Eric S. Wicksell, to a Denver Trauma Center, where he was in critical condition Monday, according to the MFPD.The dead crewmembers were pilot Luis Alberto Polanco Espaillst, 50, of the Dominican Republic, and flight attendant Warren T. Richardson III, 36, of Coral Gables, Fla., according to a press release from the Montrose coroner’s office.FAA and NTSB officials were investigating possible causes of the crash Monday. The plane’s cockpit voice recorder was found in the wreckage, burned on the exterior but protected by a layer of asbestos, according to the Montrose Daily Press. It will be flown to the NTSB’s Denver office to conduct a preliminary readout, the results of which should be available Tuesday, NTSB inspector Arnold Scott told the Montrose Daily Press.”At this point there are still a lot of questions unanswered,” Montrose Airport manager Scott Brownlee said in the first news conference, broadcast by CNN.Brownlee added he did not know if the plane’s wings had been de-iced before takeoff, saying it was the pilot’s choice. Steve McLaughlin of MTJ Air Services, which de-ices private planes at the airport, told the Denver Post his company did not de-ice the Ebersols’ plane before it took off.The Challenger plane was operated by Air Castle Corporation on behalf of Jet Alliance of Millville, N.J. Clifford Russell, president of Jet Alliance, issued a statement Monday morning that offered condolences to those involved.Challenger aircraft have been involved in other recent accidents, including a crash that killed three crewmembers on takeoff in Wichita, Kan. in October 2000, according to the Denver Post.Charlie Ebersol played a vocal role in Notre Dame student government, twice running for student body president and losing by narrow margins in 2003 and 2004. Ebersol served as manager of the Student Union Board and a member of the Council of Representatives during the 2003-04 term. He was a key actor in the recent restructuring of student government and the rewriting of the student union constitution.A film, television and theatre major, Ebersol lived in Keough for two and half years before moving off-campus.Dick Ebersol, 57, became president of NBC Sports in 1989, and was a chief negotiator in agreements to televise Notre Dame home football games on NBC. Most recently, he, University President Father Edward Malloy and athletic director Kevin White collaborated on a December 2003 contract extension that granted NBC rights to nationally broadcast the Irish through 2010.Dick Ebersol also led NBC’s successful negotiations to televise the Olympics and NASCAR events, and in the early 1980’s he served as executive producer of Saturday Night Live.

The Associated Press, CNN, the Montrose Daily Press and the Denver Post contributed to this report.