Witness describes South Bend plane crash that killed 2

Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 10:46 a.m. CDT

(MCT) SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Patricia Kobalski first heard the boom of an explosion Sunday afternoon. Then she saw swirling glass, insulation and smoke. A small twin-engine jet had crashed into the front room of her home.

Kobalski ran from a back bedroom to the kitchen to grab her 6-year-old son, Dominick, who was screaming “Mom!” Kobalski recalled that she patted him down, grabbed some warm clothing and fled.

“The home is gone,” she said Monday, pointing toward her home in South Bend, where the small twin-engine jet was still lodged, its nose peeking out the front windows. “But I got what I needed out,” she added, hugging her son, who suffered only a few minor cuts.

Two people, the plane’s flight crew, died: Steven Davis, 60, a former University of Oklahoma quarterback who led his team to two national championships in the 1970s, and his friend, Wesley Caves, 58.

Both were from Tulsa, Okla., and were licensed pilots, said National Transportation Safety Board investigator Todd Fox. It was not clear who was flying the plane. Fox added that the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder or “black box” has been recovered, and the investigation could take up to a year.

Three other people were injured, two of them passengers on the plane. The third was Kobalski’s neighbor, Diana McKeown, who was in fair condition Monday.

“She watches out for her neighbors,” Kobalski said. “Her house is gone.”

The Beechcraft Premier I twin-jet was headed to South Bend Regional Airport when the pilot reported electrical problems shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday, Federal Aviation Administration officials said. The plane attempted to land twice before it crashed into three homes in the 1600 block of North Iowa Street, officials said.

“It hit or grazed one house and then hit another one squarely and then embedded itself into a third house,” said South Bend Police Capt. Philip Trent.

Davis and Caves died at the scene. One of the passengers, Jim Rodgers, remained in serious condition and the other, Christopher Evans, was in fair condition, according to Maggie Scroope, a spokeswoman for Memorial Hospital of South Bend.

South Bend authorities said much of the neighborhood was evacuated due to leaking jet fuel, but almost all residents have returned to their homes.

The plane took off from Richard Lloyd Jones Jr. Airport in Tulsa earlier Sunday, according to the FAA. The plane is owned by 7700 Enterprises of Montana, according to FAA records.

Davis, a pilot since high school, had developed a friendship with Caves over the years. After flying to San Antonio last week, he had been invited by Caves to go to Indiana, according to Davis’ friend Jean Barrett, who played in the NFL and was friends with Davis in college.

“He had a great love of aviation,” flying his own twin-engine plane, Davis’ brother Joe Davis said.

Davis had started at Oklahoma from 1973 to 1975, Barry Switzer’s first three seasons as head coach for the Sooners. Davis led Oklahoma to the 1974 and 1975 national championships. In a statement on the school’s website, Switzer called Davis’ death a “tragic loss,” and said he was a tremendous role model.

After finishing college, Davis spent his first few years in the oil business and also spent time working as a broadcaster for both ABC and CBS, his brother Joe Davis said.

Davis also worked with Christian ministries, speaking at a rally for the Rev. Billy Graham in the 1970s and working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Joe Davis and Barrett said.

“I can’t imagine the number of young people, in Oklahoma and through the United States, (who) were influenced in their faith by him,” Joe Davis said.

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©2013 Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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