November 29, 2004

Ebersol's son dies in jet crash

MONTROSE, Colo. — The body of the 14-year-old son of NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol was believed recovered Monday after a fiery jet crash that killed two crewmen and left the injured executive and another of his sons begging bystanders for help.

Coroner Mark Young said a body matching the description of Edward "Teddy" Ebersol was found underneath the wreckage. Heavy equipment was used to recover the body.

"I'm not going to discuss the condition of the body out of respect for the family," he said during a news conference.

The aircraft with six people on board crashed during a snowstorm Sunday while taking off from the airport outside this small town 185 miles southwest of Denver. Federal authorities had no immediate word on the cause of the crash.

A backhoe was brought in to help dig through the wreckage, found near a cattle pen in a snow-covered field dotted with knee-high weeds. A white sheet was draped across part of the site as crews wrapped up work for the day.

"It's going to be a while because unfortunately a lot of the wreckage is still covered with snow," said Arnold Scott, the lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

Ebersol has been head of NBC Sports for nearly 15 years, and is perhaps best known for his love of the Olympics, which are broadcast on the network.

He and his two sons, Charles and Edward, were flying home from California, where the older son's school, Notre Dame, played a football game Saturday against Southern California. Another Ebersol son, 18-year-old Willie, is a freshman at USC.

The family flew to Colorado, where they have a home, to drop off Ebersol's wife, Susan Saint James, an actress who starred in the 1980s television series "Kate and Allie." Then, Ebersol and the two sons were headed to drop off Charles at school in South Bend, Ind.

A heavy snowstorm had eased up before the plane prepared to take off, but there was no immediate word if weather was a factor. Steve McLaughlin of MTJ Air Services, which de-ices private planes at the airport, said his company did not de-ice Ebersol's plane before it took off. Airport Manager Scott Brownlee said he did not know whether the plane had been de-iced.

Witnesses said it appeared the plane, a CL-602 Challenger, never got off the ground. It ran off the runway and skidded across a two-lane road, punching through fences on either side before bursting into flames.

Percival said he was going to crawl through a hole in the plane to look for survivors but turned around because of billowing smoke. He said leaking jet fuel soon exploded "like Roman candles."

Gary Ellis was teaching Sunday school at a Baptist Church near the airport when he heard a loud "poof."

"It came to a rest, and a moment or two later it exploded into a huge fireball," said Ellis. "It was burning as it came down the runway."

The FAA said the pilot and a flight attendant were killed. The coroner's office identified the victims as Luis Alberto Polanco Espaillat, 50, of the Dominican Republic and Warren T. Richardson III, 36, of Coral Gables, Fla., but did not say which was the pilot.

The co-pilot was hospitalized in Denver, while Dick and Charles Ebersol were hospitalized in Grand Junction. Deputy coroner Matt Eilts said the co-pilot was in critical condition.

The plane was registered to Jet Alliance of Millville, N.J. The company offered its condolences but said it had no additional information.

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