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|Tuesday, September 05, 2000, updated at 10:37(GMT+8)|
Plane Crashes in Australia, All Eight Aboard DeadA chartered airplane with eight people on board crashed early Tuesday in north Queensland state after flying across Australia apparently on autopilot.
Rescuers who reached the remote crash scene confirmed all on board the plane died. The plane burst into flames when it smashed into the ground.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the Beechcraft King Air 200 twin-engine propeller plane crashed at 2:10 a.m. (1510 GMT Monday). It apparently ran out of fuel after flying in a virtually straight line about 2,840 kilometers (1,760 miles) from Perth in western Australia.
Police believe the plane depressurized, leaving the pilot and passengers without oxygen. The plane crashed near the mining town of Mount Isa in northwestern Queensland, about 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) northwest of Sydney, AMSA spokeswoman Beverley Atkins said.
``It would appear as though the airplane was on autopilot, certainly on heading hold and it would have maintained a constant heading until the aircraft ran out of fuel, at least on one engine anyway,'' said Barry Sargeant, deputy director of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
The plane was shadowed for part of its journey by a plane belonging to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and another small commercial plane. Both tried unsuccessfully to make radio contact with the plane's pilot.
The plane was making a chartered flight from Perth to the western Australian gold mining town of Leonora, about 600 kilometers (370 miles) to the west.
One of Australia's largest gold producers, Sons of Gwalia, had chartered the plane. Seven Sons of Gwalia staff were on board, plus the pilot.
Accident investigators were expected to reach the remote crash scene later Tuesday morning. Flight recorders were not required on the light plane.
The tragedy had eerie similarities to a crash last October in which two-time U.S. Open golf champion Payne Stewart and five others died when Stewart's Learjet drifted on autopilot for hours before running out of fuel and crashing in South Dakota.
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