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Peace activist Samantha Smith dies in plane crash

By ARTHUR FREDERICK

AUBURN, Maine -- Samantha Smith, the schoolgirl who wrote Soviet President Yuri Andropov about her fear of nuclear war and visited the nation as his guest, died in a fiery plane crash that also killed seven other people.

Smith, 13, who had been filming a television series in London, her father, four other passengers and two crewmembers were killed Sunday night when the Bar Harbour Airlines plane crashed while trying to land at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport Sunday night.

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The names of the other victims were to be released today at a news conference in Bangor.

Smith, 13, became an international celebrity with the two-week Soviet trip in 1983 and was to have starred in 'Lime Street,' an ABC situation comedy scheduled for the fall season, with Robert Wagner.

Four episodes of the hour-long series have already been filmed - two in Virginia, one in Washington, D.C., and one in London. The next was to be shot in Switzerland, where Wagner was awaiting the film crew at his home when the crash occurred.

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Wagner, through his publicist, said, 'I am completely devastated by the loss.'

Columbia Pictures-Televison, which produces the series, said it will have an annoucement sometime later on what it will do about the future of the show and the four episodes already shot, including major scenes with Samantha as Wagner's eldest daughter.

Bar Harbor Flight 1808, originating in Boston with scheduled stops in Auburn, Augusta and Waterville on its way to Bangor, was trying to land at Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport when it crashed and burned Sunday night.

Investigators returned to the scene at daybreak today to begin the task of removing the bodies and determining the cause of the crash.

Police initially received a report of a fire and found the wreckage in a field about a half-mile from the airport, Auburn Police Lt. Norman Guerette said. The Auburn Fire Department doused the burning wreckage.

Guerette said the Beechcraft 99 twin-engine turboprop crashed at about 10 p.m. EDT.

'We have eight fatalities,' Guerette said. 'We have no report that anyone is alive. The report we have is that there were eight fatalities.'

The state medical examiner, Dr. Henry Ryan, said early today that Samantha and her father, Arthur Smith, were among the six passengers and two crew members killed in the crash.

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He said many of the bodies were burned beyond recognition. 'I think we're going to have to work in the light and I think we're going to need a dentist -- that's what we're dealing with.'

Gary Linscott, director of airline market planning for Bar Harbor Airlines, said Federal Aviation Administration investigators and an airline operation team were sent to the scene.

Minutes after the crash, Janet Mills, the Androscoggin County district attorney, broke the news to relatives and friends waiting at the airport. Mrs. Smith was among those waiting for the plane to arrive. Mills took the family members into a lounge and told them there were no survivors.

Ryan said relatives of all the victims have been notified.

Smith, of Manchester, Maine, gained celebrity status in 1983 when she wrote Yuri Andropov of her concerns about the possibility of nuclear war between the two countries. The Soviet president replied by inviting her to meet with him in Moscow.

The Kremlin footed the bill for the trip for Smith and her parents, including $10,000 for the family's first-class plane tickets. But the 11-year-old never got to meet Andropov on the two-week visit in July 1983.

Andropov died on Feb. 9, 1984, at the age of 69.

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The crash occurred on Christian Hill while the plane was coming in for a landing, but it apparently failed to clear the wooded hill, which is directly in the flight path.

There was no immediate indication of what caused the crash, Guerette said.

Florence Berwick, who lives next to the airport, said the entire incident happened very fast, and afterward, 'Everything was burning and we couldn't get anywhere near it.'

'(The plane) came down through (the pine trees) and one of the engines sounded like it went out and the other engine went into a whine real fast and it hit the ground,' Berwick said. 'I couldn't get from one side of the house to the other before it hit the ground.'

Before crashing, the plane skimmed the top of pine trees in Stan Gallagher's front yard, which is across the street from the airport.

'I was in the front room and I thought it was going to take the house off,' Gallagher said. 'It came within 15 feet of the house. She blew when she hit. The flames were tremendous. It just missed the top of our house.

'I thought for sure it was going to hit the house. I dropped right to my knees on the floor. It was that close.'

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Gallagher said he thought the plane was at least 300 feet off course when it crashed.

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