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Payne Stewartdead in plane crash

Three-time Major winner Payne Stewart was among five people killed when his Learjet crashed in a remote area of the United States.

The Dallas-bound jet flew uncontrolled over part of the US for several hours before crashing in South Dakota.

The twice US Open champion and member of the US Ryder Cup team which defeated Europe recently was a co-owner of the jet which was believed to have experienced a pressurisation failure.

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Three passengers and two crew were on board the jet which was believed to have been flying at 43,000ft.

It had taken off from Orlando, Florida, and contact was lost with those on board at Gainesville.

US Air Force F-16 and F-15 fighters followed the jet and reported seeing no activity on board.

British aviation expert David Learmount, of Flight International, said depressurisation at that altitude would have resulted in the crew and passengers becoming unconscious within seconds.

He told Sky News: "The F-16 fighter pilots have looked at the windows and they have said that they appear to be frosted over which indicates a very, very low temperature inside the aircraft and that might mean depressurisation at a very high altitude.

"We understand the Learjet was at 43,000ft which is well above what most airliners fly at.

"If the aircraft did depressurise at that height literally you wouldn't have time to get an oxygen mask to your face before you passed out from lack of oxygen."

The golfer's mother, Bee Stewart, she did not know if her son was on the plane but confirmed he was a co-owner.

Gene Abdallah, of South Dakota Highway Patrol, confirmed that the plane had crashed about two miles west of Mina, in the north-central part of the state.

There was no confirmation as to the identities of other people on the plane.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said US President Bill Clinton was informed of the situation during a meeting with his economic advisers.

Two Federal Aviation Administration officials were dispatched to the scene of the crash, as had a National Transportation Safety Board representative.

Planes that fly above 12,000ft are normally pressurised, because passengers would have difficulty breathing the thin air above that altitude.

If there is a pressurisation problem, those aboard the aircraft could slowly lose consciousness and, if not returned to a normal altitude, die.

Once reaching a cruise altitude, pilots often switch on the autopilot. If they passed out, the plane would cruise until it ran out of fuel.

Father of two young children Stewart, 42, has been one of the most recognisable players in golf because of his trademark plus fours and tam-o'-shanter hat.

He has won 18 tournaments around the world, including the three major championships.

In June, Stewart won his second US Open over Phil Mickelson with a 15ft putt, the longest putt to ever decide that championship on the final hole.