20,000 diverted in wake of fatal jet crash

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The Independent Online

More than 20,000 passengers were forced to alter their travel plans yesterday after a private plane crashed at Birmingham International Airport.

Air accident investigators were still searching the airport yesterday to determine the cause of Friday's crash, in which all five Americans on board the Challenger jet died. The plane crashed and burst into flames on take-off.

The shutdown at Birmingham forced 170 flights to be diverted to other UK airports.

A spokesman for Birmingham International Airport yesterday said once investigators had finished their search, airport crew would begin to clear the runway where the incident occurred.

He said: "We estimate at the moment that the airport could open tomorrow, but again, all operations will have to stop tonight when it gets dark.

"We are talking about around 170 flight arrivals and departures we would have been dealing with today, and about 20,000 passengers that will be disrupted."

He said flights were being diverted to Coventry, East Midlands, Manchester and Heathrow airports. He advised passengers to check in at Birmingham at the usual time or contact their airline or tour operator for more details.

Buses were ferrying people between Birmingham and the alternative airports.

It is not yet known why the jet, carrying executives from the American agricultural equipment giant AGCO Corporation, crashed as it began its return flight to Bangor, Maine, just after midday, killing two passengers and three crew. The passengers were named as AGCO's president, John Shumejda, 54, and its senior vice-president of sales and marketing, Ed Swingle, 59.

The two black box flight information recorders were taken from the scene of the accident and were being examined at Farnborough to deter- mine the cause of the crash.

The three pilots who died were employed by Epps, a US firm that provides crew for company jets. Eyewitnesses said one of the Canadair Challenger's wings hit the ground as the plane left the runway. Part of the wing broke off and the jet crashed and exploded. The front part of the plane careered across grass and taxiways while the tail section came to a halt 300 yards from the airport's main runway.