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Investigation into crash ongoing

Claire Heininger | Wednesday, December 1, 2004

As the Ebersol family grieved Tuesday over the loss of Teddy Ebersol, federal officials investigated possible causes of the charter plane crash that killed the 14-year old and two crewmembers in Montrose, Colo. Sunday.

The CL-601 Challenger plane’s cockpit voice recorder contains a 31-minute tape of the accident sequence, National Transportation Safety Board investigator Arnold Scott told the Associated Press Tuesday.

The transcript of the recording could shed light on the circumstances that caused the private jet to crash at Montrose Regional Airport at 10 a.m. Sunday, injuring Notre Dame senior Charlie Ebersol, 21, and NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, 57.

The transcript will be released after an NTSB examination in Washington, D.C., Scott said. No potential causes have been ruled out, he said, adding that investigators are looking into possible malfunction of the jackscrews that control the plane’s wing flaps.

Speculation after the accident centered on whether or not the plane’s wings had been de-iced before it attempted takeoff in a light snowstorm Sunday morning. Scott confirmed Tuesday the plane was not de-iced, according to the Associated Press.

The decision to de-ice is the pilot’s, Montrose airport manager Scott Brownlee said in a news conference Monday broadcast nationally by CNN.

Similar protocol is followed at the South Bend Regional Airport, said director of operations Marcy Greenberger.

“It’s up to each individual aircraft operator,” she said.

The Ebersol family remained in Grand Junction, Colo., where Dick and Charlie Ebersol were in stable condition at St. Mary’s Hospital, according to hospital public relations director Kim Williams.

“We will miss Teddy, our sweet boy, forever,” the family said in a statement. “Teddy was a warm, loving, energetic young man. He had developed a wonderfully quirky sense of humor way beyond his years that kept the whole family laughing.

“His wonderful spirit lives on in our family, and in all who knew and loved him. Of course, everyone who knew Teddy was aware of his passion for the Boston Red Sox, and a highlight of his short life was the Red Sox winning their first championship in 86 years. Like his team, Teddy never lost hope.”

Susan Graham, head of The Gunnery boarding school that Teddy Ebersol attended in Washington, Conn., remembered him as a “very spirited and enthusiastic young freshman.”

“He was a strong presence on campus … everyone knew Teddy,” she said, adding that the 14-year old was particularly talkative when it came to politics and sports.

The Gunnery held an all-school meeting to discuss the tragedy after students returned from Thanksgiving break Monday night, Graham said. Grief counselors and psychiatrists met with freshmen that knew Teddy Ebersol and will be available at the school if other students need help.

A memorial service will take place at the school next week, and the Ebersol family is planning another service at The Gunnery for Dec. 18, Graham said.

No formal funeral arrangements for Teddy Ebersol have been announced.

Amidst their sorrow, the Ebersols expressed thanks for the community’s support and pride in their eldest son.

“In the wake of this tragedy, we are touched by the overwhelming outpouring of love from people all over the world,” the family statement said. “While our grief is unfathomable, we are so proud of our Charlie, who pulled his father from the flames. That anyone was able to survive this horrible accident is a miracle, and all of us will forever be inspired by Charlie’s courage and bravery.”

As the first officer to arrive at the scene of the crash, Montrose County sheriff’s deputy Shane Schmalz was too late to see Dick Ebersol rescued from the plane.

He feared the worst.

“I did not [anticipate survivors] due to the looks of the plane,” which was leaking jet fuel as it disintegrated in the flames, Schmalz said. “I’ve been working for 12 years and I’ve seen some crashes, but that one was amazing to see people walk away from.”

Schmalz said he helped Dick Ebersol walk to safety, supporting the NBC executive on his shoulders until the two reached medical personnel.

While Dick Ebersol told Schmalz his back hurt, Charlie Ebersol insisted he was fine, Schmalz said.

The senior, shoeless and wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt in the bitter cold, was looking for a cell phone as he pleaded with rescuers, Schmalz said.

“He kept saying ‘My brother’s in the plane,'” Schmalz said.

Schmalz tried to stick his head inside the back end of the plane to look for Teddy Ebersol, but was overwhelmed by the heat and could not see any survivors.

“At that point it was so hot and so intense of a fire that it wasn’t possible,” he said.

Teddy Ebersol was thrown from the plane and crushed by wreckage, Montrose County Coroner Mark Young told the Associated Press.

Pilot Luis Alberto Polanco, 50, of the Dominican Republic, and flight attendant Warren T. Richardson III, 36, of Coral Gables, Fla., were killed on impact, the coroner’s office said in a press release. Co-pilot Eric S. Wicksell remained in critical condition at a Denver Trauma Center Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of Luis [Polanco] and Warren Richardson, who perished along with our son, and to the third crewmember, who remains critically injured,” the Ebersol statement said. “Again, we are so grateful for your prayers and support.”