Irish Foreign Minster's Plane Catches Fire

"It was lumbering," a witness said of the medical helicopter that crashed. "You knew something wasn't right."</


Since Monday night, a plane carrying Ireland's foreign minsters experienced an on-board fire, two United Express planes were forced to make emergency landings and a medical helicopter crashed on a Washington, D.C., golf course killing the patient being transported.

Over Ireland on Monday, Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern and three advisors were flying from Cork to Dublin on Monday night when flames were seen inside the cabin of the Air Corps plane.

The crew fought to keep the blaze under control after sparks shot out from a faulty socket.

The captain immediately turned the plane back to Cork Airport to make an emergency landing. Last night, a spokesman confirmed details of the mid-air scare.

He said: "There was an incident onboard where some smoke and then a flash of flames emerged over a window panel. A full-scale emergency operation was put in place on the ground, with up to four units of the Fire Brigade on standby as the plane returned to Cork."

Mr Ahern's spokesman praised the quick action of the Air Corps crew and said they were "very professional". The 29-year-old Beechcraft aircraft was seven minutes into the flight when the fire started.

The jet had earlier travelled to Derry where it collected Tanaiste Mary Harney and brought her back to Dublin before returning to Cork to collect the minister.

Mr Ahern and his advisors were flown back to Dublin early yesterday morning on a' substitute plane.

On Tuesday afternoon, a medical helicopter crashed on its way to Washington Hospital Center, killing the patient and injuring three crew members.

The patient, 51-year-old Steven Gaston, was being transported from another hospital about 10 miles away and died in emergency surgery late Tuesday after the crash, Washington Hospital Center spokesman LeRoy Tillman said. The exact cause of his death had not been determined Wednesday.

The pilot, nurse and paramedic were listed in serious but stable condition with broken bones and tissue injuries, said Dr. Janis Orlowski, the hospital's chief medical officer.

The chopper crashed in clear conditions less than a mile from the hospital on a hilly area of a golf course at the U.S. Soldiers and Airmen's Home.

One witness said he saw the low-flying helicopter and heard it hit a tree about 500 yards from the golf course clubhouse.

"It was lumbering," said Billy Bartlett, who works at the golf course's pro shop. "You knew something wasn't right."

The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were investigating.

Outside of Washington on Tuesay night, three passengers were taken to the hospital with minor injuries after a United Airlines flight made an emergency landing at Dulles International Airport, the airline said.

United Express 7512 from Houston, Texas, had to make the emergency landing at Dulles with its nose gear still up, said United spokeswoman Megan McCarthy.

The flight was carrying four crew members and 56 passengers, who were evacuated from the aircraft on the runway. United did not disclose the operator of the regional aircraft or the aircraft type.

Also Tuesday, a United Express flight from Chicago overran the runway at Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee, said Tony Yaron, the airport's manager. No injuries were reported.

There were 44 passengers and three crew members aboard the CRJ 200 regional jet. Mosinee is about 130 miles north of Madison. Again, the United Express operator was not disclosed.



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