March 23, 2009 / 12:21 AM / 9 years ago

Plane nose-dived before Montana crash, 14 dead

BUTTE, Mon. (Reuters) - The plane crash that killed all seven children and seven adults on board began with a sudden nose dive just short of the airport in Butte, a federal official said on Monday.

<p>Flames and billowing smoke rise after a single-engine private passenger plane crashed into a cemetery, on approach to an airport in Butte, Montana, killing 17 people, March 22, 2009. REUTERS/Photo courtesy of the Montana Standard/Martha Guidoni/Handout</p>

National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Mark Rosenker said his team is looking into the experience of the pilot and whether the 11-seat plane was overweight. The single-engine plane had no “black box” flight data recorder and the investigation could take months.

The Pilatus PC-12 turboprop plane was carrying three fewer passengers than originally reported on Sunday and if infants were being carried on laps, the entire group could have fit on board.

The plane made three stops in California before heading to Bozeman, Montana, for a ski vacation but officials did not give details about the passengers. Bozeman and Butte are towns of about 30,000 each in the mountainous western half of the state.

The single pilot requested twice to divert to Butte from Bozeman, without giving a reason, and both times the Salt Lake City flight controller approved the change, Rosenker told a news conference.

He said witnesses saw the plane flying at about 300 feet and take a 90-degree nose-dive before crashing in a cemetery just short of the airport. Photos showed a ball of flame at the crash site.

Reporting by Emilie Ritter, editing by Peter Henderson and Bill Trott

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