Debris covers the ground and nearby cars after an explosion at the I Schumann & Co metals plant on February 20, 2023 in Bedford, Ohio ( GETTY / AFP / Michael Swensen)

Plane crash inspires Ohio train derailment conspiracy theories

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A plane crash that killed five environmental consulting firm employees spurred false claims online that the experts were responding to a February 2023 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. This is false; the passengers were traveling to investigate an unrelated factory explosion that occurred elsewhere in the US state.

"BREAKING NOW: Environmental scientists that were heading to East Palestine, Ohio killed plane crash," says a February 22, 2023 tweet from Chuck Callesto, a former Republican congressional candidate from Florida.

The post includes footage of authorities responding to a plane crash coupled with screenshots of news clips about the February 3 train derailment. The video accumulated more than 4.4 million views.

Screenshot of a tweet taken March 1, 2023

Stew Peters, a radio host who has previously promoted conspiracy theories, and social media users on Facebook and Instagram shared similar claims. The posts say the scientists were traveling to investigate the aftermath of the train accident, which set off a days-long fire and the release of hazardous chemicals.

On TikTok, a video with more than 722,000 views implied foul play in the plane crash. Others insinuated the plane was sabotaged to cover up malpractice related to the derailment, contributing to broader conspiracies that the event was intentional.

Those allegations are false -- the passengers were traveling to Ohio for an unrelated investigation.

Arkansas crash

On February 22, a twin-engine plane crashed shortly after departing Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas.

"The plane was headed to John Glenn Columbus International Airport in Ohio. Five people were on board," a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesperson said.

All five passengers, including the pilot, were employees of the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH), an environmental consulting firm based in North Little Rock. None survived the crash, which the FAA is investigating.

"They were responding to an incident at the Schumann and Company metals plant in Bedford, Ohio," said CTEH spokesman Denver Peacock.

A February 20 explosion at the factory, located 70 miles north of East Palestine, killed one and injured 13. Local officials have said the cause is undetermined, but not criminal.

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board has pointed to an overheated wheel bearing as a likely cause of the railway failure in East Palestine. The agency previously told AFP there are no indications of "sabotage/foul play."

AFP has debunked more misinformation about the Ohio train derailment here.