Clinton aide `killed' in Croatia air crash

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The Independent Online




Ron Brown, a US cabinet member and one of the country's best known black politicians, was among more than 30 people presumed killed in the crash of a military aircraft in Croatia yesterday.

The US Air Force plane carrying the Commerce Secretary, several senior American corporate executives, and Commerce Department and military personnel, crashed into a mountainside in stormy weather as the plane approached Dubrovnik airport after a 45-minute flight from Tuzla in Bosnia. American, Nato and Croatian forces were mounting a land-sea search and rescue operation, and unconfirmed reports last night spoke of one survivor, a woman. Croatian officials said last night the tail section of the Boeing 737 aircraft had been found, along with four bodies. The aircraft was carrying 33 people including six crew members, according to the Pentagon.

In Washington the reaction was of stunned disbelief. The Rev Jesse Jackson, whose 1988 Presidential campaign was managed by Mr Brown, said he was "traumatized and disoriented" by the news, while President Clinton cancelled his schedule as word reached Washington just before 11am that the plane was missing. Mr and Mrs Clinton later went to Mr Brown's home to comfort his family. Mr Brown "was a magnificent life force," the President told Commerce Department staff.

Initial reports on the location of the disaster were confused, but President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia said the plane crashed into a mountain overlooking the Adriatic, a few miles from Dubrovnic. Mr Tudjman and US officials stressed no hostile fire was involved.

The number of US businessmen on the aircraft was also unclear, but last night at least eight were unaccounted for. Nathaniel Nash, the Frankfurt bureau chief of the New York Times was also killed in the crash, the paper announced.

Mr Brown had planned to spend three days in Bosnia and Croatia meeting American troops and local political and business leaders to discuss post- war reconstruction.

"Our presence today is a sign that we want to help you," he told Bosnian businessmen. In Tuzla, he had handed out McDonald's hamburgers to mud- spattered GIs.

The apparent death of Mr Brown deprives Mr Clinton of one of the sharpest political brains in the Democratic party, honed by an early career in the civil rights movement, followed by a long stint as partner in a top Washington law firm, and a widely praised tenure as party chairman between 1989 and 1993, culminating in Mr Clinton's election.

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