With the volume of air traffic around the resort area in the summer, from the banner planes to the flights in and out of the municipal airport, Ocean City has seen its fair share of fatal plane crashes over the last 15 years or so.
The following is a brief glimpse at some fairly recent tragedies.
On July 19 of last year, a single-engine banner plane crashed in a remote area of a defunct golf course in Berlin, killing the pilot.
Just before 11 a.m. last July 19, 2012, troopers from the MSP Berlin barrack, deputies from the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and officers from the Berlin Police Department responded to Bunting Airport in Berlin after receiving 911 calls reporting the crash. Investigators from the Worcester County Bureau of Investigation (WCBI) and the Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office also responded for assistance.
Emergency crews responded to a reported plane crash in a remote area of the old Beach Club golf course in Berlin, which has been closed for several years. The preliminary investigation revealed the single-engine banner plane struck a tree near the golf course and crashed, killing the pilot and only occupant on the aircraft.
Plane Clips Trees
Around 10:30 a.m. on June 27, 2006, an Aerial Productions International Acrojet Special crashed in the woods just across Route 611 from the Ocean City Municipal Airport, killing the pilot.
After being prepared for test flights by the pilot and company personnel, the plane took off from the Ocean City Municipal Airport around 10:10 a.m. to begin the first of four test runs.
However, during the first of four test runs, light rain began to fall in the West Ocean City area and the pilot was instructed to return to the airport as a safety precaution. After returning to the airport area, the pilot began his final five-mile final leg descent to Runway 14. A company employee who observed the airplane moments before the crash told NTSB investigators he saw the airplane on a low level final approach above the trees that bordered on the approach end of the runway and although it was flying low, the witness assumed the aircraft had cleared the trees.
However, about two seconds later, the witness observed what he described as a black plume of smoke rising from the trees. The wreckage was soon found in the wooded area on the opposite side of Route 611 from the airport.
Four Lost In Ocean Crash
On March 15, 2002, four people heading to the resort for a late Friday dinner date perished when a Cessna 172P crashed into the ocean on its final approach to the Ocean City Municipal Airport.
The plane carrying two couples left the airport in Stevensville near the Bay Bridge for a late dinner in Ocean City. About 10 miles from Ocean City, the pilot radioed into the airport he was soon landing and attempted to make arrangements for a taxi to pick up himself and his passengers including his wife and another couple. However, he was told the airport was closed for the evening and he would have to call for a taxi when he got on the ground.
Another pilot in the area about four miles from the airport heard the doomed pilot radio in he was on the final approach for Runway 20 and then say, “Is that right?” The witness told NTSB investigators he then saw the doomed plane transition from a horizontal flight to a vertical one as the plane went out over what he characterized as a “black hole.”
The night was clear, but moonless, creating a situation where a pilot relying only on visual navigation is subject to a phenomenon called spatial disorientation, meaning the dark, moonless sky is not easily distinguishable from the dark ocean and no horizon is discernible. The witness told NTSB investigators “they were probably spatially disoriented because when you on downwind and head out over the ocean like that, you may as well get on the instruments and stay on the instruments until you turn final.”
Another witness who lived near the airport told investigators the plane was seen going down in the ocean.
“It was clear, but it was dark,” she said. “You couldn’t see a horizon. He made that half turn out over the ocean and then he went straight down.”
The bodies of two of the victims were recovered in the water around the resort area in the days following the crash. The bodies of the two other victims, including the pilot and the wife of the other victim, were recovered when the wreckage was found on the ocean floor nearly a month later.
Fog Dooms Practice Flights
Shortly before 9 p.m. on June 21, 1998, a pilot was practicing takeoffs and landings at the Ocean City Airport when he crashed in the dense fog onto the runway and perished.
According to NTSB reports, the purpose of the flight was for the pilot to complete three takeoffs and landings at night. After the third landing, the pilot was to board two passengers and fly to an undetermined location. However, after the plane took off for the third time, a dense fog rolled in over the airport, according to a witness.
“After he took off, I could see this wall of fog rolling in,” the witness told the NTSB. “It was coming off the ocean and it was coming in. When the fog came in you couldn’t see anything, anything at all. I believe the man was coming in to land on 14 and couldn’t find the airport.”
According to the witness, the plane was flying at full power and was flying low and flew over the hangars at around 100 feet and the landing gear was down and illuminated by the airport’s rotating beacon.
“He throttled up to do a go-around and that’s when the fog was rolling in,” the witness said. “It was probably giving him a false horizon. It was unique when it was rolling in. I heard the airplane all the way to impact.”
Banner Plane Tragedy
Around 2:20 p.m. on Aug. 24, 1997, a Waco Classic YMF-5 crashed into the ocean just off the coast of Ocean City claiming the lives of the pilot and its two female passengers.
The banner plane was operated by Ocean Aerial Ads. The two passengers had purchased a 15 minute flight and the plane took off from the Ocean City Municipal Airport around 2:10 p.m. Another pilot from the same company reported the doomed pilot radioed in he had “two female passengers on board who wanted a thrill.”
The plane flew the standard route east to the Inlet and then a left turn heading north to fly along the shoreline. A witness on the beach, who was also a certified pilot, told the NTSB the plane was doing “Unusual maneuvers, unusual in the sense that they were out of the ordinary for an airplane traveling northbound along the coastline.” The witness described the maneuvers as climbing turns and descents commonly referred to as S-turns. The witness said the pilot might have been warming up to do aerobatics.
The witness said the plane was climbing and descending at about 200 to 300 feet and that he thought the pilot was about to attempt a loop, and as he watched, the nose raised up, but instead of continuing over and completing the loop, the plane went vertical. At the top of the climb, the plane went into a spin and headed to toward the ocean surface and the witness said he then realized the aircraft did not have the altitude sufficient to recover. The plane completed one more turn before impacting the ocean at a high rate of speed.