November 29, 2004

NBC Sports Chief Survives Plane Crash

DENVER - A charter plane carrying NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol crashed and burst into flames during takeoff from a southwest Colorado airport Sunday, killing at least two people and seriously injuring Ebersol and one of his sons. Rescue crews were searching for another son.

Dick Ebersol, 57, and son Charles Ebersol survived the crash at the Montrose Regional Airport outside this southwest Colorado town, according to Denver NBC affiliate KUSA-TV.

Eyewitness Chuck Distel told The Associated Press by phone that Charles, a college senior, helped his father out through the front of the plane, whose cockpit had been ripped off by the force of the crash.

The station said crews searched for Edward "Teddy" Ebersol, 14, by helicopter and on the ground. NBC said the plane seat was missing from the wreckage.

Distel, who was driving on a highway that runs parallel to the runway, saw the plane as it skidded sideways off the runway, went though a fence and brush before hitting a roadway that ripped the cockpit from the fuselage and left it an unrecognizable wreck separate from the aircraft.

An "older gentleman" with gray straight hair and a "younger gentleman with shorter, dark hair," were walking around outside the wreckage as Distel and an airport official arrived at the scene.

"I had to think for a second, `who are these people?'" he said. "They weren't severely injured, they were in shock."

He said the older man, whom he later identified as Ebersol from pictures showed to him by other reporters, didn't say a word as the younger man cried and yelled "Oh my God, Oh my God!"

An airport official yelled into the plane looking for survivors, but heard none. The plane, which had left a burning trail of jet fuel, burst into flames that forced Distel and other rescuers away from the wreckage.

The younger man was able to climb into an ambulance while Ebersol was loaded onto a stretcher, Distel said.

Montrose County Sheriff's officials said two people were dead. KUSA said the victims were the pilot and co-pilot. No identities were released, but the station said Ebersol's wife, actress Susan St. James, was not on the plane.

Linda McCool, a nursing supervisor at Montrose Memorial Hospital, said three men were brought to the hospital after the crash, but had all been transferred to other hospitals by Sunday afternoon. Dan Prinster, vice president of St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, said two people were moved there from Montrose Memorial and another patient was being flown to a burn unit in Denver. Neither McCool nor Prinster would release any other information on the survivors.

The crash occurred in an area covered with small brush and cedar trees, sheriff's Communications Supervisor David Learned said. A large drainage ditch also is at the site.

A storm hit much of the state over the weekend and dumped more than 3 feet of snow in the area. Distel said it had been snowing heavily throughout the day but was it lightly snowing with fog and reduced visibility during the time of the crash. It was not known if weather was a factor.

Montrose is less than an hour from the Telluride Ski Area, popular with celebrities. The flight was scheduled for a trip to South Bend, Ind., where Charles Ebersol, the oldest son of Dick Ebersol and St. James, attends the University of Notre Dame.

The plane's tail number was N873G, identifying it as a CL-601 Challenger, which can carry up to 19 passengers, registered to Jet Alliance of Millville, N.J. In a statement, the company expressed its condolences but had no additional information.

Investigators from the FAA and National Safety Transportation Board were en route to the airport, 185 miles southwest of Denver.

Dick Ebersol, who lives in Litchfield, Conn., has a long history at NBC. He became director of late-night programming at NBC in 1974 and replaced Lorne Michaels for a rocky tenure as executive producer of "Saturday Night Live" in the early 1980s. He became president of NBC Sports in 1989 and recently signed a contract that keeps him at the network through 2012.

Ebersol worked as an ABC researcher at the Grenoble Olympics in 1968, beginning his love affair with the multisport event. He was a protege of Roone Arledge and carried on his philosophy of presenting the Olympics via storytelling, rather than emphasizing results.

"He is very innovative," Fox Sports chairman David Hill said Sunday. "He's obviously a great leader and, from my perspective, a very worthy competitor."

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