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30 Years Ago Today: The Ramada Inn Plane Crash

Ten people died on Oct. 20, 1987, after an A-7 fighter jet slammed into the lobby of the Ramada Inn near the Indianapolis International Airport.

INDIANAPOLIS -- On Oct. 20, 1987, at 9:11 a.m., a military jet, without the pilot, crashed in to the Ramada Inn at the Indianapolis Airport. Nine people died that day, one more person died from burns later.   

The engine failed and the pilot bailed. The A-7 fighter jet skidded across the top of a bank and into the lobby of the motel. The lower floors of the motel burned.

The pilot, Air Force Major Bruce Teagarden, was seen in his flight suit, after having landed in a parking lot, walking toward the crash site, and was later taken to be deposed. He had taken off from Pittsburgh International Airport, bound for Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. 

The 35-year-old had no plans to stop in Indianapolis. Indiana was not his intended destination. Teagarden didn't know a gear would cause a leak in the engine and let all of the oil out.

Teagarden's engine had seized up 15 miles from the Indy Airport. 

He asked for help from the Indianapolis International Airport Air Traffic controller and only got a lackluster response from the people who were supposed to be experts at helping aircraft in trouble. When he asked for weather conditions, the controller could be heard directing him to turn his radio to a separate frequency, which Teagarden had neither the time, not the control to do at that point. His aircraft was about to crash.

"The landing gear were down. Both of them were sheared off," described Sam Prophet, a witness who talked with WIBC news. "There were people everywhere. I walked right up to them. There were flames coming out of the north side of the building."

Another witness described seeing a man on fire. Some people claimed to have seen people jump from the upper floors of the nine-story building.

Dead that day were Emma Jean Brownlee, 37; Ruth Katherine Cox, 29; Christopher Lee Evans, 21; Beth Louise Goldberg, 30; Brenda Joyce Henry, 26; Narinder Kanwar, 41; Allen Dale Mantor, 18; Mary Kathleen Marsh, 29; Dawn Eschelle Martin, 19; Thomas Charles Murray, 37.

The Ramada never reopened on that site and the burned out hulk stood empty for two years before it was demolished. A parking lot is on the site now.

The Air Force was sued, but never paid out huge settlements. 

"I don't think I'd want to work in a motel," said Anne McGuire, who worked as a maid and lost her job, along with the entire staff. "It would be on my mind. Sometimes I have nightmares."

Several experts and military analysts believed Teagarden bailed out too late, trying to direct the plane away from a populated area. The air traffic controllers were blamed for not giving good direction and the Air Force decided to put in new safety checks to keep planes with defective parts from being flown.

You can listen to WIBC's reports from that day and from the months after the crash.

(Photo by RTV6.) 

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