5 January 2002

Five die as private jet explodes on take off

By Nick Britten

Five people were killed yesterday after their executive jet aircraft crashed on take off at Birmingham airport.

The twin-engine Canadair Challenger 604 exploded as it left the runway at Birmingham International Airport at more than 100mph.

Witnesses said a wing clipped the ground, sending the jet spinning out of control as it lifted into the air. The three crew and two passengers died as the aircraft burst into flames despite emergency services arriving within 60 seconds.

The passengers were named as John Shumejda and Edward Swingle, senior executives at the AGCO Corporation, one of the world's largest manufacturers of agricultural equipment.

Mr Shumejda, president and chief executive, and Mr Swingle, senior vice president for sales and marketing, were visiting the company's European headquarters at the Massey Ferguson plant in Coventry.

They were returning to AGCO's headquarters in Duluth, Georgia, when the accident happened.

The nine-seat Canadian built Challenger, the most popular executive aircraft on the market, took off from runway 15 at 12.07pm bound initially for Bangor, Maine, and was carrying a full tank of fuel.

As it neared the end of the runway, it veered to the left and burst into flames. One witness, Robert Stephens, said: "I looked up to see the aircraft take off.

"It was about to lift off the ground and it flipped on to its side. It veered to the left and rolled along in flames. Then it came to a halt and exploded."

The airport's fire crews were quickly on the scene but could do nothing to save the victims. Wreckage was strewn over several hundred yards.

Jim Ward, who was playing golf near the airport, described seeing a "fireball" after the aircraft went down and debris littering the runway. "I saw flames, a big explosion," he said.

Birmingham airport was immediately closed for the rest of the day with incoming and outgoing flights rerouted to Manchester, Coventry and East Midlands airports.

Air accident investigators recovered the aircraft's black box voice recorder and were last night going through the final minutes before take off to try to establish the cause of the crash.

Brian Summers, Birmingham airport's managing director, said that it was the first accident in the airport's history.

He said that while the airport would reopen after noon today, further delays were likely and coaches were being laid on for passengers being forced to travel to and from other airports.

He added: "The real issue is the tragedy for the people involved. The disruption to passengers is secondary, frankly."