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Plane crash that took governor barely missed journalist

October 17, 2000
By: Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The airplane crash that cost the lives of Missouri's governor and two others nearly cost the life of a journalist covering the governor's campaign.

Public radio reporter and 1998 Missouri Journalism School grad Missy Shelton Belote had planned on being aboard Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan's plane that crashed south of St. Louis Monday night.

But scheduling conflicts within Carnahan's campaign left the MU alum safe on the ground.

Carnahan, his son Roger, and an aide, Chris Sifford all died in the crash. Carnahan was in the midst of a tight U.S. Senate battle with Republican Sen. John Ashcroft.

"I was peeved when they told me I couldn't get on because I wanted a whole day with the governor," said Shelton Belote, a political correspondent for KSMU, a National Public Radio affiliate in Springfield, Mo.

When Shelton Belote heard the plane went down, she had quite a different response.

"My stomach was just in knots. I was shaking," she said. "But I did let out a big sigh of relief."

Carnahan's spokesman Tony Wyche said the pair had discussed her flying, but schedule changes forced the campaign to leave her behind.

Shelton Belote said she and Wyche agreed the week before that she would fly with Carnahan from St. Louis to a campaign stop in Missouri's bootheel. On Sunday, however, she said Wyche told her she could interview the governor but couldn't fly with him.

She got 10 minutes with Carnahan on Monday afternoon. She said she asked the governor if he would still run for the Senate if he had the chance to do it all over.

"He launches into this thing about how he's had a good life both publicly and privately," she said. "It struck me as an odd response, particularly in retrospect. It was a straight yes or no question."

She then interviewed Sifford and Roger Carnahan. She later sought Sifford out to see if he could pull some strings and get her on the Cessna.

"I asked Sifford if there was anything he could do to get me back on the plane, but he said they probably wouldn't fly anyway because the weather was so bad," she said. "It was just pouring down rain at the time."

She said she didn't record Sifford's response.

Since Monday, she said she has had numerous requests for interviews.

"I've been really concerned because I don't want to appear like someone who is trying to profit off this," she said. "I was just doing my job. It could have been anyone who asked those questions.

"I can't feel anything. I'm numb. It's so surreal."