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King Air Plane a Business Favorite

The King Air A-100 that crashed in northern Minnesota, killing Sen. Paul Wellstone and seven others, is safer than most business turboprop planes, according to a consultant who studies business aviation accident rates.

The 100 series of King Air planes, also known as Beech King Airs, has an accident rate 19 percent lower than all business turboprops, according to Robert Breiling, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based aviation consultant.

The King Air planes' fatal accident rate is even better: 25 percent lower than all business turboprops.

Breiling said charter air-taxi operations have more than twice as many accidents as professionally flown business planes. Wellstone chartered the plane, which was registered to Beech Transportation Inc. of Eden Prairie, Minn.

There have been 383 of the King Air 100 series manufactured since the first one rolled off the line in 1969, according to Breiling. Currently there are 338 still active, with 288 in North America, he said.

The 11-seat, twin-engine turboprop was once made by Beechcraft, since acquired by Raytheon Corp. It has a Pratt & Whitney engine.

The aircraft is considered solid and stable, said Warren Morningstar, spokesman for the Airline Owners and Pilots Association.

"It's a great airplane," he said.

It's unclear what caused Wellstone's plane to crash two miles from the runway. The Federal Aviation Administration said light snow was falling at the time.

"This airplane would typically be equipped with de-ice equipment but there are icing conditions that are beyond the measure of any equipment to remove," Morningstar said.

According to Paul Takemoto, FAA spokesman, the plane was supposed to be equipped with a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.

That could prove to be a big help to the National Transportation Safety Board team dispatched to Minnesota to investigate the accident.

One minor problem was found with the plane during a March 1996 inspection by the FAA when a condition lever was found to be slightly worn. The lever cuts off fuel and controls the idle speed of the engine, Morningstar said.

"Normally in a turboprop you move it out of cutoff and you don't touch it until you're ready to land and shut the engine down," he said.