Little Rock Plane Crash and Ohio—What We Do Know, What We Don't

Since the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, the number of other crashes across the U.S.—from derailments and manmade disasters—has been reported widely, as questions over the quality of American infrastructure permeate the national conversation.

An Oklahoma tank fire last week, a pipe bomb found near Philadelphia train tracks, and a series of separate derailments this month has led to speculation and conspiratorial theories about the causes of the incidences.

Now, the news of a plane crash in Arkansas in which five people were reportedly killed around midday February 22, 2023, has attracted global headlines, in large part because the passengers worked for an environmental consultancy firm heading to Ohio.

East Palestine crash
Claims that a plane crash in Arkansas, carrying environmental workers to a factory explosion in Ohio, was falsely connected to the train derailment in East Palestine. Pictured here, the train shipping cargo from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, after it derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. DUSTIN FRANZ/AFP via Getty Images

Plane Crash Passengers Heading to Ohio Metals Plant

According to the BBC, all those on board were employees of CTEH, a Little Rock-based environmental consultancy firm.

"We are incredibly saddened to report the loss of our Little Rock colleagues," said senior vice-president of CTEH Paul Nony. "We ask everyone to keep the families of those lost and the entire CTEH team in their thoughts and prayers."

Speaking to the press, Lt. Cody Burk of Pulaski County Sheriff's Office in Arkansas confirmed there were no survivors from the crash, which took place within a mile of the Little Rock Airport, where they took off.

The federal National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the cause of the plane crash.

Per a report by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the NTSB said its preliminary report should come 15 days after the crash, but the investigation may not be completed for one to two years.

Although the plane was heading to Ohio, the workers were sent to investigate an explosion at a metals plant in the Cleveland suburb of Oakwood Village, which killed one worker and injured 13 others, reported the Associated Press.

The explosion, at the I. Schumann & Co. copper alloy company, took place on Monday, sparking a fire, with the cause of the explosion under investigation.

East Palestine Speculation Swirls

However, multiple social media posts about the plane crash mention East Palestine despite all of the reports about the incident stating that it was headed to Oakwood Village, nearly an hour and twenty minutes from East Palestine.

One tweet by conservative commentator Chuck Callesto, posted on February 23, 2023, which has been viewed more than 781,000 times, incorrectly stated: "BREAKING NOW: Environmental scientists that were heading to East Palestine, Ohio killed plane crash.."

Fellow conservative Stew Peters tweeted the same day: "Environmental scientists headed to Ohio for the clean-up die in a plane crash ... ... in Little Rock, Arkansas."

Moreover, there are many other comments which make more explicitly conspiratorial links between the crash and the derailment in East Palestine.

Both Callesto and Peters' tweets include a video with superimposed graphics showing that CTEH had also been linked to the cleanup in East Palestine.

One tweet by user @notbilly, seen more than 52,000 times, said: "All five people onboard a plane crash outside of Clinton airport worked for an environmental consulting firm connected to East Palestine. Extremely suspicious."

User @Funkytown_01, in a tweet seen by over 35,000, repeated the same conspiratorial notion based on the connection between the crash and East Palestine.

"You're not going to believe this," they wrote.

"The plane crash outside of Clinton airport that was headed to Ohio had a team of toxicology and environmental health experts, working for an outside company hired to test the water, soil & air quality in East Palestine, Ohio.

"A coincidence?"

It's true that CTEH had been contracted by Norfolk Southern in response to the derailment in East Palestine, as stated by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH).

But there is no suggestion beyond the speculation on social media that the connection between that incident and the plane crash is anything more than coincidence.

While the presence of the company across multiple environmental incidents in Ohio has brought attention, there is no information to corroborate any notion that the plane crash and the situation in East Palestine are connected.

The only link is that CTEH was also working at the derailment site.

Speculative claims and innuendo circulating online just a day after the plane crash should be treated with strict skepticism; factual information is scarce and investigations into the crash by those working on the ground are continuing.

Common Trope

Whatever the intentions were behind the posts that connected the plane crash to the unrelated incident in East Palestine, conspiratorial claims or otherwise made while there is little information available is a common trope of online misinformation.

Earlier this month claims spread that a NewsNation journalist had been arrested for covering the train derailment in Ohio.

Newsweek found that although reporter Evan Lambert was arrested at a press conference, suggestions that he was taken into custody for "reporting the truth" were exaggerated, as many other journalists at the conference were not arrested for doing the same job.

Former president Donald Trump's visit to East Palestine this week was also the subject of misinformation, with online rumors spread that he had handed out 13-year-old water in the Ohio town.

Newsweek found that the oldest it could possibly be according to archived pages of Trump's merchandise website was seven years old.

Investigations into the train derailment are ongoing, with the White House facing scrutiny for its involvement since the incident. Until Tuesday this week, President Joe Biden had not made a public statement about the situation, noticed by online critics.

Biden's decision to visit Ukraine before East Palestine was also criticized with the town mayor's calling it a "slap in the face."

Newsweek has contacted CTEH for comment.