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A small private plane crashed near the Haifa airport yesterday afternoon, killing the pilot and two passengers and critically wounding another, Civil Aviation Authority officials said.

The pilot was Doron Amir, about 60 years old, of Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra, a former commander of the Israel Defense Forces' submarine squadron. The passengers were contractor and entrepreneur Reuven Ziegler, 61, of Givatayim and businessman Uri Levy, of Kfar Shmaryahu.

The plane was returning from Cyprus when it hit an empty building at the tiny airport near the Technion. The CAA is investigating pilot error as the possible cause.

The pilot and three passengers had taken off for Larnaca, Cyprus yesterday morning on a business trip. At about 5 P.M. the plane, a single-engine, six-seat Beechcraft Bonanza B-35, approached the Haifa airport from the Mediterranean.

Eyewitnesses said the plane made a normal descent but appeared to touch down on the runway too fast, and tried to take off again. The pilot asked the control tower for permission to overshoot and circle around for another landing.

The control tower asked if there was a problem. The pilot responded that there wasn't, and received permission. The plane rose into the air and turned left. After passing the runway, it entered the nearby military base, struck three trees and an electric pole, and finally crashed into an Air Force structure and burst into flames. Airport rescue teams rushed to the crash site, sprayed water on the smoldering plane and attempted to save the passengers.

Eyewitness Raslan Konsibo said he heard a big explosion, saw smoke and ran toward the crash site. "Four men were lying on the ground. Three of them were scorched and the fourth was injured and covered with burns," he said.

A firefighter said one of the passengers survived the crash but died a few minutes later.

Transportation Ministry aviation accident investigator Yitzhak Raz has begun an investigation

Meanwhile, friends remembered how Amir, the former submarine commander, had forgone water for air. Amir was supposed to have sailed on the ill-fated journey of the Israeli submarine Dakar in January 1968. But at the commander's insistence, he and two other young officers, who had just completed a special course, returned from England by air and escaped disaster - the Dakar disappeared, along with 69 sailors.

"He said that today he prefers flying to diving," his navy friend Avraham Ben-Ze'ev said yesterday. "He kept persuading his friends from the navy to join him, too."

Reuven Ziegler built marinas in Herzliya, Ashkelon and Ashdod, and recently managed the expansion of Haifa Port. A friend said he and partner Uri Levy had been in Cyprus to discuss a proposed marina there.