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Small jet crashes in Minnesota; at least 7 killed
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    OWATONNA, Minn. — A small jet crashed in strong thunderstorms Thursday while preparing to land at a regional airport in Minnesota, killing at least seven people who were traveling to do business with a glass company.
    Ten people were supposed to be aboard the Raytheon Hawker 800 that went down at a regional airport about 60 miles south of the Twin Cities.
    One person aboard the plane apparently survived and was taken to a hospital.
    Authorities were searching for two other people who were supposed to be aboard the plane but could not immediately be located. Officials said those passengers may not have been on the flight from Atlantic City, N.J., to Owatonna, a town of 25,000.
    The charter jet went down in a cornfield northwest of Degner Regional Airport, scattering debris along a gravel road, Sheriff Gary Ringhofer said. The wreckage was not visible to reporters because tall corn obscured the crash site.
    Cameron Smith, a mechanic at the airport, said he spoke by radio with the jet’s pilot just minutes before the crash. The pilot was about to land and was asking where he should park for fuel, Smith said.
    He ran to the crash scene to see if anyone could be helped, but saw only a long skid path and debris that he described as ‘‘shredded.’’
    ‘‘I was amazed to hear that someone survived,’’ he said. ‘‘There was no fuselage. There were just parts.’’
    Quinn Johnson, an assistant manager at a restaurant about three miles from the airport, didn’t see the crash, but heard it. She initially thought it was a tornado.
    ‘‘It lasted, I’m guessing, probably 15, 20 seconds, maybe slightly longer than that. It was a really, really loud, kind of a rumbling, screechy type noise,’’ Johnson said.
    The crash happened as severe weather battered parts of southern Minnesota. An hour before the accident, a 72 mph wind gust was reported in Owatonna, according to the National Weather Service.
    The sheriff did not have specific information about the weather at the time of the crash, but said it was dark, windy and raining heavily.
    Smith and Johnson said the crash happened after the worst of the storm had passed, with the sky clearing and only light rain falling.
    Elizabeth Isham Cory, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman, identified the charter’s owner as East Coast Jets Inc.
    A person who answered the phone at the company declined to comment.
    The plane had been scheduled to land at 9:42 a.m., then take off at 11:40 a.m. for Crossville, Tenn.
    The Owatonna People’s Press reported the plane was carrying customers to Viracon Inc., an Owatonna-based glass company that earlier this year was awarded a contract to supply glass to the World Trade Center site.
    Viracon President Don Pyatt told the newspaper that the customers were from a couple of different companies and planned to visit the plant to discuss a project in Las Vegas.
    He did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press.
    Mary Ann Jackson, a spokeswoman for Viracon’s parent company, Apogee Enterprises Inc., confirmed to The Associated Press that the passengers were Viracon customers but declined to elaborate.
    Degner Regional Airport’s Web site describes it as ‘‘ideal for all classes of corporate aircraft’’ with an all-weather instrument landing system.
    ‘‘Maintaining access to Owatonna’s business community in all weather conditions is a priority,’’ the site says.

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