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NBC executive's son feared dead in crash in Colorado

November 29, 2004

MONTROSE, Colo. (AP) - The 14-year-old son of NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol was presumed dead Monday after a fiery jet crash that killed two crewmen and injured the executive and another of his sons.

The aircraft with six people on board crashed during a snowstorm Sunday while taking off from the airport outside this small town 185 miles southwest of Denver. Federal authorities had no immediate word on the cause of the crash.

With light snow falling, crews began picking through the charred pile of twisted metal and a 6-foot-high shard of the fuselage with three gaping, round windows. The two engines lay on the ground nearby near the tail section where they had been mounted. A backhoe was brought in to help dig through the wreckage, found near a cattle pen in a snow-covered field dotted with knee-high weeds.

"It's going to be a while because unfortunately a lot of the wreckage is still covered with snow," said Arnold Scott, the lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board.

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Ebersol has been the head of NBC Sports for nearly 15 years, and is perhaps best known for his love of the Olympics, which NBC has the rights to through 2012.

He and his two sons, Charles, 21, and Edward, 14, were flying home from California, where the older son's school, Notre Dame, played a football game Saturday against Southern California. Another son of Ebersol's, 18-year-old Willie, is a freshman at USC.

They flew to Colorado, where they have a home, to drop off Ebersol's wife, actress Susan Saint James, who starred in the 1980s television series "Kate and Allie." Then, Ebersol and the two sons were headed to drop off Charles at school in South Bend, Ind.

A heavy snowstorm had eased up before the plane prepared to take off, but there was no immediate word if weather was a factor. Steve McLaughlin of MTJ Air Services, which de-ices private planes at the airport, said his company did not de-ice Ebersol's plane before it took off. Airport Manager Scott Brownlee said he did not know whether the plane had been de-iced.

Deputy coroner Matt Eilts said a search had turned up no sign of Edward, a freshman at a Connecticut boarding school.

"We believe at this time that the boy has probably perished within the crash," Eilts said.

Witnesses said it appeared the plane, a CL-602 Challenger, never got off the ground. It ran off the runway and skidded across a two-lane road, punching through fences on either side before bursting into flames.

Doug Percival, a driver at a local towing service, told The Montrose Daily Press that he was one of the first to arrive at the scene 100 yards from the runway. Percival said he heard Charles Ebersol "screaming for help, saying his brother was still on the plane. He came and grabbed me from the side and said, 'Please, my brother is still in the plane. He was in the fourth row."'

Another witness, Gary Ellis, was teaching Sunday school at a Baptist Church near the airport when he heard a loud "poof."

"It came to a rest, and a moment or two later it exploded into a huge fireball," said Ellis, a retired Denver police officer and recreational pilot. "It was burning as it came down the runway."

The FAA said the pilot and a flight attendant were killed. The coroner's office identified the victims as Luis Alberto Polanco Espaillat, 50, of the Dominican Republic and Warren T. Richardson III, 36, of Coral Gables, Fla., but did not say which was the pilot.

The co-pilot was hospitalized in Denver, while Dick and Charles Ebersol were hospitalized in Grand Junction. Eilts said the co-pilot was in critical condition.

The plane was registered to Jet Alliance of Millville, N.J. The company offered its condolences but said it had no additional information.

Known as a television innovator, Ebersol has a long history at NBC and has been influential in giving the Olympics a home on the network. Ebersol became president of NBC Sports in 1989 and recently signed a contract that keeps him at the network through 2012.

In 1995, NBC obtained the rights to five Olympics from 2000 to 2008 in a pair of deals worth $3.5 billion. Those negotiations took place in secret without other networks getting a chance to bid. In June, NBC acquired the 2010 and 2012 Games in a $2.2 billion deal.

He was there for the start of another of the network's hallmarks, "Saturday Night Live," and briefly replaced Lorne Michaels as that show's executive producer in the early 1980s. Ebersol became director of late-night programming at NBC in 1974.

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AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich in New York contributed to this report.

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