Missouri in Shock After Tragedy

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ST.
LOUIS
– Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan was killed last
Monday night when a small plane carrying him to a campaign event
crashed in a heavily wooded area in rain and fog.

The
was carrying Carnahan; his son Roger, who was the pilot and a recent
graduate of the JFK,
Jr. School of Aeronautics
; and his senior campaign adviser Chris
Sifford. “There were no survivors,” said Jerry Nachtigal, the governor’s
press secretary. “After piecing together the details of this tragedy,
we are certain it’s the governor, his son, and Chris Sifford, his
aide.”

Carnahan
was finishing his second term as governor and was in the middle
of a campaign for the Senate, challenging incumbent Republican Senator
John Ashcroft in a closely contested race. The tragedy greatly reduces
Democratic hopes of taking control of the Senate, at least by peaceful
means.

At
2:25 AM Tuesday morning, in a tiny room at the capitol in Jefferson
City, Lt. Gov. Roger B. Wilson (D) announced that he will serve
as acting governor until Carnahan’s death is officially confirmed.
At that point he will leave the tiny room and go to a regular-sized
room. Once state officials are able to sufficiently hose down the
keys to the governor’s office, Wilson will be taken to a really
big room to be sworn in.

“Governor
Carnahan was a great man, a respected man, a lover of large rooms,”
Wilson said, choking back tears. “I’d give anything if this confirmation
did not occur. But the state of Missouri has a constitution and
a procedure. The Disability Board has met. Because of the inability
of Governor Carnahan to communicate, even with the aid of John
Edward
, I am acting governor at this time. I’m very grateful
for the support of the state officials, both in the House and the
Senate. I would like to ask for permission to lean on about 5 million
Missourians’ shoulders while I begin the process of sticking my
hands into about 10 million pockets.”

Vice
President Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush were in the St. Louis
area preparing for their final presidential debate there Tuesday
night. Bush’s wife, Laura, who was in St. Louis for the debate,
canceled a Republican Party BBQ and kegger scheduled for Tuesday
afternoon.

Campaign
officials huddled Tuesday morning about whether to proceed with
the debate, but decided it should go on. Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.),
the House Minority Leader, said in a phone call to the NBC station
in St. Louis, “It’s a sad occasion. From what I understand, the
Republican majority bears much of the responsibility for this tragedy
because of their massive cuts in federal aviation-safety funds.”

Carnahan
had attended a fund-raiser in St. Louis on Monday night and was
headed to the boot heel of southeast Missouri for a get-out-the-vote
conference aimed at minority voters. “Unfortunately,” his press
secretary said, “his aim was a bit off. Yesterday morning, the governor
thought it was going to be an exciting occasion. It turns out that
he didn’t know the half of it.”

Nachtigal
said both Carnahan and his son were avid pilots and Randy Carnahan
had flown his father to many campaign events. Nachtigal said both
were careful about the weather. “There were a number of times when
the weather looked a little iffy and the governor would say, ‘Let’s
grab a case and take the pickup instead.’”

Carol
Carmody of the National Transportation Safety Board said at a briefing
this morning that a Cessna 335 departed from St. Louis Parks Airport
at 6:55 PM Central Time carrying three passengers. The pilot was
flying with instruments – an old kazoo and a banjo – and
the plane dropped off radar at about 7:33 PM. The first 911 call
came in at 7:36 PM, apparently from a “citizen,” she said.

Monday
night, more than 100 rescue workers went to the scene, where their
work was hampered by having to run back and listen to the emergency
vehicle radios to see how the Cardinals-Mets game was proceeding.
The search was suspended when the Mets won and the workers became
too distraught to continue. It was continued the next morning.

The
investigation of why the Cardinals lost is expected to take nine
months to a year, Carmody said, while looking into the Governor’s
plane crash should be wrapped up “just after lunch.”

Eyewitnesses
said the plane went down in a fireball explosion that rocked houses
in the area. “All of a sudden I just heard this engine, revving
for all it’s worth,” an eyewitness, wearing nothing but some boxers
and a Cardinals’ batting helmet, said on KDNL Channel 30. “It sounded
like it was going to take my shingles off. And about five seconds
later, the whole house shook like someone picked it up and dropped
it. I called 911 and complained – I could barely hear the $#&%*
game.”

Tom
Hunter, a witness, told KTVI Channel 2, “I heard the aircraft flying
over and then the engine started into a scream, like a dive. You
could tell it was diving. There was a loud explosion. Then Zeile
hit that double
, and that was it. Total silence.”

Two
fire fighters were injured at the scene, which is so rugged that
a law-enforcement official said it “takes a billy goat to even get
to the scene. Luckily, I happened to have one in the room with me
at the time of the crash.”

Carnahan,
66, was a popular governor who was elected in 1992 and reelected
in 1996 with 57 percent of the vote and 100 percent of the bad toupees.
Limited to two terms and not quite ready to get a real job, he decided
to challenge the conservative Ashcroft. Democrats had counted the
Missouri race as one of their best opportunities to pick up a seat
in November. Now, they’re not so sure.

Shortly
after the crash, Ashcroft’s campaign manager announced that the
Senator would offer to suspend campaigning and pull all television
ads in favor of a series of debates with Carnahan’s chauffeur.

Carnahan
was born in Birch Tree, Missouri and, ironically enough, ended his
life embedded in a birch tree in Missouri. He graduated from George
Washington University in 1954 and received his law degree from the
University of Missouri in 1959.

Prior
to his election as governor, Carnahan served as Missouri treasurer
from 1981 to 1985 and lieutenant governor from 1988 to 1992. He
also served as majority leader of the state House, ombudsman of
Birch Tree, Missouri State Commissioner of “Showing Me,” Chief Archimandrite
of Shannon County, Most Puissant and Righteous Public Electrical
Utility Rate Audit Director for the Missouri Boot Heel, and an elder
in the Hutterite Brotherhood.
He was an Aquarius, loved Adam Sandler movies, and was rated as
one of the state’s top amateur phrenologists.

Democratic
state treasurer Bob Holden and Republican Rep. Jim Talent are competing
to succeed Carnahan, although hopefully not as famous plane crash
victims.

Lt.
Gov. Wilson, who was in St. Louis, was escorted back to Jefferson
City by the Missouri Highway Patrol, as he had “caught a Yeltsin-like
cold,” and was unable to drive.

Wilson,
who turned 52 last week, is a former state senator. He was elected
lieutenant governor in 1996. However, it was just last week that
he had finally gotten his name painted on his office door. Wilson
will be the state’s 52nd governor, but only the 3rd to take office
after the explosion of a previous governor.

October
24, 2000

Gene
Callahan is a regular contributor to mises.org,
and Stu Morgenstern is contributing editor at The
Frumious Bandersnatch.

2000, Stu Morgenstern
and Gene Callahan

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