EXCLUSIVE: "South Bend be advised the plane just crashed."


There's new information in the deadliest South Bend aviation crash in half-a-century.

On Tuesday, NewsCenter 16 obtained radio traffic between 911 dispatchers and first responders en-route to what was initially reported as an aircraft is distress. The newest audio recordings follow the release of four South Bend 911 calls and FAA recordings between the Beechcraft Premier 1A twin-engine jet and the South Bend TRACON Center.

Around 4:20 p.m. on March 17, the St. Joseph County Airport Authority contacted the South Bend 911 Center to launch an emergency response.

"Engine 11, Engine 4, Engine 7, Engine 2, Engine 6, Quint 7, Quint 1, Rescue 103, Medic 4, Medic 3 and 1660, respond to 4477 W. Progress Drive at the airport. We have a private plane coming in with only half of the landing gear operable,” a dispatcher can be heard saying.

Station 11, located at N. Bendix Dr. and Cleveland Rd., is the closest traditional firehouse to the airfield. While responding southbound along N. Bendix Drive, three firefighters witnessed the unthinkable.

Engine 11: "South Bend be advised the plane just crashed, we see it south of Lincoln Way, it looks like."

Dispatcher: "10-4.”

Engine 11: "South Bend be advised it looks like it might have struck a house."

Dispatcher: "Let us know on an exact address when you can."

Engine 11: "South Bend it's 1614 on Iowa Street, we've got a plane into a house."

Dispatcher: "10-4. All units responding to the airport, go to the mutual aid frequency."

Engine 11: "South Bend Engine 11 is on scene. We have two houses involved, we have no fire, we have a gas leak, we have fuel on the ground, unknown if we have any survivors."

Engine 7: "Engine 7 on scene."

Engine 11: "Engine 7 I've got a hydrant, just come on up with manpower, I need manpower."

Dispatcher: "10-4."

Engine 11: "Chief I've got two houses involved, I've got no fire. I'm using manpower right now to stage. I've got a heavy gas leak. I've got one out of the two houses evacuated for sure. I've gotten the first one."

In total more than 100 police officers, firefighters and paramedics were called to the 1600 block of N. Iowa St., about a mile southeast of South Bend Regional Airport terminal. The huge feat was amazingly carried-out by just five South Bend dispatchers on what was, until then, a quiet Sunday afternoon.

"They have to be able to multitask many things - listening to radio traffic, listening to phone traffic. You might have another dispatcher in the room yelling more vital information such as the exact address as the plane went into. So you have to be able to hear all those things, decipher in your head what's going on, and get that vital information out to those responders that they need to know,” said South Bend 911 Center communication director Diana Scott.

Situated in a dimly lit room inside the South Bend Police Department, a staff of 25 dispatchers frequently trains for a variety of disasters, including aviation accidents.

"When we do the drills we always think this is kind of silly, but we saw that day it isn't. These disasters can happen. Who would have thought it would have happened on that Sunday, but it did,” Scott added.

In 2012, the South Bend 911 Center answered 97,962 emergency calls, and dispatched 105,387 police, fire and EMS incidents. That’s 289 calls a day, on average.

If you’d like to listen to the first 30 minutes of dispatch traffic leading-up to, and following the crash of N26DK, just click on the video icon above this story.


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