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7 children, 7 adults die in US crash

A SINGLE-ENGINE turboprop airplane that crashed just short of an airport in the US state of Montana jerked to the left before nose-diving into a cemetery, a witness said yesterday. All 14 people on board, half of them children, were killed.

Kenny Gulick, 14, told CBS television that he thought he was watching a stunt plane because the pilot was making so many turns before the aircraft crashed on Sunday.

"He jerked the plane to the left too quickly and lost control of it, but that's just my guess," said Gulick. "And all of a sudden it went into a nosedive. I noticed the pilot trying to pull up, but he was extremely low to the ground and he didn't pull up in time."

The death toll was confirmed by Karen Byrd, a Federal Aviation Administration operations officer in Renton, Washington.

The single engine turboprop crashed and burned at Holy Cross Cemetery, 150 meters short of Bert Mooney Airport in Butte, said FAA spokesman Mike Fergus.

The plane, a Pilatus PC-12, was believed to be taking its occupants on a ski trip.

The Pilatus PC-12's capacity is 12 adults. It was not known whether the extra people aboard was a factor in the crash, since seven of the victims were children.

An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, Kristi Dunks, offered few details at a press conference in Butte on Sunday night. No cause of the crash was given.

Dunks would not say if there had been a distress call from the pilot. It was partly cloudy, the visibility was 16 kilometers and winds were blowing from the northwest around 16 kph at the time of the crash, according to hourly temperature information from the National Weather Service.

A California newspaper, the Napa Valley Register, reported on its Website late on Sunday that a family of five from St Helena, California, including three preschoolers, was among the victims.

The aircraft had departed from Oroville, California, and the pilot had filed a flight plan showing a destination of Bozeman, about 137 kilometers southeast of Butte. But the pilot canceled his flight plan at some point and headed for Butte, Fergus said.

Butte Silver-Bow Sheriff John Walsh said there were a few people at the cemetery at the time of the crash, but no one on the ground was injured.

The plane was registered to Eagle Cap Leasing Inc in Enterprise, Oregon, Fergus said. He didn't know who was operating the plane.


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