Seven of the nine people believed killed when a small business jet crashed into an apartment building were employees or executives in a Florida real-estate company, the firm confirmed Wednesday.
Pebb Enterprises, based in Boca Raton, Fla., said on its website that two executives and five employees died Tuesday afternoon when the plane crashed and burst into flames.
Our hearts are broken this morning with the news of the tragic accident that took the lives of two principals and five employees of Pebb Enterprises. We are shocked and deeply saddened for the families, colleagues and friends of those who perished. Our first priority is to give our fullest support to the family members and loved ones of our co-workers. We ask for the media’s understanding and cooperation at this time of unimaginable loss and mourning and are not responding to media requests at this time.
Investigators are trying to determine what caused the jet to strike the Akron building with a huge bang, shaking furniture in homes several blocks away and leaving behind fiery debris.
The Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board and other state and local officials planned to hold a news conference around noon at the crash site.
Authorities said no one aboard the 10-seat Hawker H25 jet survived on Tuesday afternoon, but they would not confirm the number of people on the plane. Earlier they said there were at least two deaths. No one was inside the four-unit apartment building or another home that caught fire, said Lt. Sierjie Lash, an Akron fire department spokeswoman.
Plane owner Augusto Lewkowicz said two pilots and seven passengers were on the flight. He said he had talked to investigators and was trying to contact the families of the victims.
Family members say they were told by Ohio State Police that executive Diane Smoot was among those who perished in the crash. The 50-year-old Smoot was with a group of executives from Pebb Enterprises, a company that scouts locations for shopping malls, her sister told Cleveland.com.
According to flight records:
• The plane first left Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport at 6:58 a.m. Monday. It landed at 9:19 a.m. central time at St. Paul Holman field in St. Paul, Minnesota.
• The plane left St. Paul at 10:59 a.m. and took a 47-minute flight to Quad City International Airport in Moline, Illinois. It landed at 11:46 a.m.
• The plane left Moline at 2:58 p.m. and landed at Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield, Missouri at 3:36 p.m.
• The plane took off from Missouri at 5:49 p.m. The flight took an hour long, and the plane landed at Cincinnati Municipal Airport at 7:49 p.m. eastern time.
• The plane took off from Cincinnati the next day at 11:12 a.m. and took a 12-minute flight to the Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport in Dayton.
• The plane's last recorded flight was to Akron Fulton International Airport. It left Dayton at 2:13 p.m.
The Akron crash was at 2:49 p.m.
The company's website describes it as "a full-service, vertically integrated private equity real estate investment company which specializes in the development, construction, acquisition, ownership and operation of commercial properties with an emphasis on high quality, neighborhood, regional and power shopping centers. Today PEBB owns and operates a diversified portfolio of over 2 million square feet of commercial properties throughout the United States."
The Summit County coroner on Wednesday sought the expertise of a forensics team from Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania, to help local officials at the site of the crash. The team specializes in crime scene and airplane crash recoveries of human remains.
The jet took off from Dayton and planned to land at Akron Fulton International Airport, about 2 miles from where it crashed. Ohio State Highway Patrol Lt. Bill Haymaker said it clipped utility wires on the way down and crashed into the building, which was destroyed by a subsequent fire. The plane then hit an embankment beyond the building, causing a nearby house to also burn.
The plane burst into flames and disintegrated after impact.
There were no reports of any injuries on the ground, Haymaker said.
Witnesses said they heard explosions when the plane hit.
Carrie Willis lives several blocks away.
"I heard a big bang, and my couch shook twice," Willis said.
Another witness, Roberta Porter, lives about a block away from the Akron crash site. She was driving home when she saw the plane crash into the building and burst into flames.
"This plane just dropped out of the sky, veered and crashed into the apartment building," Porter said.
She said it's scary to think that if she had been driving faster the plane might have clipped her car.