Saturday, October 08, 2005

Plane Carrying Viruses Crashes in Canada

A cargo plane carrying small amounts of flu virus crashed on railway tracks near Winnipeg's city center Thursday, killing the pilot but missing buildings and vehicles, authorities said.

The research samples of frozen influenza and herpes viruses were destroyed in the crash and ensuing fire along with other freight, Federal Express spokeswoman Karen Cooper said.

She said the Cessna 208 was owned by Morningstar Air Express of Edmonton and was under contract to FedEx.

Morningstar spokesman Don Boettcher didn't immediately identify the woman piloting the aircraft. "She'd been with us for about five years," he said, without providing further details.

The plane took off from the Winnipeg airport en route to Thunder Bay, Ontario, at about 5:45 a.m. and traveled about four miles southeast of the airport before it requested a return, Transportation Safety Board investigator David Ross said.

"The aircraft then descended below radar coverage and contact was lost with the aircraft," Ross said.

"It has crashed on railway tracks and does not appear to have collided with any other objects, houses or cars," police Sgt. Shelly Glover said.

Winnipeg police spokeswoman Carolyn Kwiatek said there was no damage to the surrounding area from the fire. The crash did tie up traffic on nearby streets during the morning rush, but no accidents or injuries resulted.

In its cargo were six vials of virus samples being sent to Thunder Bay for research, Cooper said.

Although the samples were labeled dangerous goods, they weren't considered hazardous at the crash site since all the cargo was destroyed in the blaze, Cooper said.

Police Sgt. Kelly Dennison said weather may have been a factor. Reports suggested light snow and mist in the area, temperatures near the freezing mark, moderate winds and about four miles of visibility.

Ross said the plane probably wasn't carrying a flight data recorder.

Associated Press