|By Jason Nark and Chuck Darrow,
Philadelphia Daily NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
August 1, 2008 - Several gaming and construction executives working on a $2.5 billion Atlantic City casino project were killed yesterday when a small charter jet crashed in Minnesota, authorities said.
At least eight people were killed, officials said, including employees of Revel Entertainment Group and Tishman Construction who were working on the Revel Hotel & Casino project.
The Raytheon Hawker 800 went down while preparing to land at a regional airport about 60 miles south of the Twin Cities. Investigators were looking into whether the plane had a ninth passenger who was unaccounted for.
Seven people were dead at the scene. One died later at a hospital. The plane had two pilots.
Severe weather had been moving through southern Minnesota earlier in the day, but witnesses and the National Weather Service said that the storms were subsiding at the time of the crash.
The jet, flying from Atlantic City to Owatonna, a town of 25,000, went down in a cornfield northwest of Degner Regional Airport, authorities said. The wreckage was not visible to reporters because tall corn obscured the crash site.
The debris was scattered 500 feet beyond the airport's runway.
Late yesterday, the Dakota County coroner was on the scene working to identify victims.
Atlantic City Mayor Scott Evans said that those on board included two high-ranking executives of Revel Entertainment and employees of Tishman Construction. He did not identify them, but said that Revel's chief executive, Kevin DeSanctis, was not on board.
Bud Perrone, a Tishman spokesman, identified one victim as Karen Sandland, a project manager who worked out of the firm's Newark, N.J., office. He said that the company was trying to confirm that Sandland was the only Tishman employee on board.
Lauren Avellino Turton, a spokeswoman for Revel, confirmed in a statement that several company employees were killed in the crash, although she didn't identify them.
"Revel is mourning the loss of several of its team members," the statement said. "The design team was heading to Minnesota for a glass manufacturing meeting."
Evans said that he can see Revel's office from his, and shudders to think that some of the people whom he has met on the casino project may have been killed.
"There's a good chance some of them are gone, unfortunately," Evans said. "It's a sad day. We're all shocked."
Sharon Gordon, a spokeswoman for Atlantic City International Airport, said that the jet arrived there from Allentown, Pa., at 7:10 a.m. and picked up an undisclosed number of passengers before taking off for Ott, Minn., at 8:13 a.m.
The jet was operated by East Coast Jets, of Allentown. A man who answered the phone there declined to comment.
According to published reports, the passengers were heading to Viracon, an architectural-glass fabricator in Owatonna.
Viracon has worked on the Water Club and Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, as well as the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site.
The company's president, Don Pyatt, told the Owatonna People's Press that the customers were coming to the plant to discuss a project in Las Vegas. Evans, however, said that they were heading to a convention in Minnesota to look into materials for two 800-foot towers at the planned Atlantic City casino and hotel.
Scheduled to open its first phase in 2010, Revel Entertainment's hotel-casino complex is under construction on the Boardwalk at New Jersey Avenue, just northeast of the Showboat.
When completed, the Las Vegas-style mega-resort will boast two blue-glass towers, each of which will contain almost 2,000 rooms and suites, a 168,000 square-foot casino and a Boardwalk-fronting retail, dining and entertainment area called Revel Beach.
Other features include a 5,000-seat arena, a 600-seat theater and, in keeping with current trends, a luxurious, top-tier spa.
When it opens, it will be Atlantic City's first new casino-hotel since the Borgata debuted in July 2003.
The crash was reminiscent of an October 1989 helicopter accident in central New Jersey that killed three top executives of Donald Trump's casino empire just six months before the opening of the Taj Mahal Casino & Resort.
Among those victims was Mark Etess, who was to be the property's CEO, and for whom the Taj's 5,200-seat arena is named.
By Jason Nark and Chuck Darrow. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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