OCEAN CITY — Search efforts following a small plane crash just off the coast of the Ocean City Municipal Airport in late February concluded last week with the identity of the fatally-injured pilot confirmed and the presumed passenger never recovered.
On Feb. 28, a Cessna 172S airplane piloted by Marcson Ngwa, 28, of Windsor Mill, Md., allegedly accompanied by Benica Richards-Robinson, 28, of Gwynn Oak, Md., went down in the Atlantic Ocean about a mile from the Ocean City Municipal Airport. The following morning, when the rented airplane had not returned to Martin State Airport in Baltimore County where the ill-fated flight originated, a massive search effort was initiated.
On March 1, an oil slick was located about two miles off the coast of the Ocean City Municipal Airport and search efforts were focused there. Late that same day, the plane’s fuselage and a wing were located on the ocean floor below the oil slick and Ngwa’s deceased body was recovered. The search continued off and on over the next two weeks, hampered by back-to-back coastal storms at times. Last week, Maryland State Police investigators announced search and recovery efforts had ended. Richards-Robinson was not recovered and is presumed deceased, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) preliminary report released last week.
According to the NTSB preliminary report, the Cessna 172S was destroyed around 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 28 when it impacted the Atlantic Ocean about one mile east of the Ocean City Airport.
According to flight school personnel at Martin State Airport, Ngwa rented the airplane on the day of the accident for a short flight to Ocean City Municipal Airport. Preliminary information from air traffic control revealed the pilot flew direct and obtained flight following, or the use of radar advisories, en route to Ocean City Municipal Airport.
The pilot cancelled flight following during the approach to Ocean City Municipal Airport and there were no further communications from the pilot. A review of preliminary flight data showed the airplane descended from 2,000 feet to 700 feet above ground level before radar coverage was lost.
Witnesses at Ocean City Municipal Airport reported seeing the airplane conduct a touch-and-go landing before departing the traffic pattern. According to the flight school, the airplane was not rented for an overnight trip and the pilot was expected to return to Martin State Airport.
The following morning, when the flight school office manager arrived at work, she noticed the airplane had not returned and it reported it missing to her manager. She contacted Ocean City Municipal Airport and was informed the airplane was not at the airport. The office manager called surrounding airports and the Coast Guard in an attempt to locate the missing plane.
After the airplane was not accounted for at any of the airports, the flight school initiated a search flight along the pilot’s last known flight route. About 10:30 a.m. on March 1, an oil slick about two miles off the end of runway 14 at Ocean City Municipal Airport was seen. The GPS coordinates were shared with the Civil Air Patrol and the Coast Guard.
According to Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP), the agency received a report of a missing airplane that was conducting touch-and-go landings at Ocean City Municipal Airport. A search of the shoreline was initiated, and debris was sighted. During the search, a fuel oil slick was discovered that was still bubbling to the surface. The NRP positioned its vessel around the highest concentration of fuel and oil and anchored.
Divers subsequently discovered a wing and the fuselage of the airplane. Shortly thereafter, the pilot, Ngwa, was found within the wreckage. The wreckage was located in the Atlantic Ocean about one mile from the shoreline at a depth of around 50 feet.
On the day following the crash, search and rescue personnel located the severely deteriorated plane and the body of the pilot. Ngwa’s remains were transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for autopsy.
Search efforts were suspended shortly before 6 p.m. on that first day due to the impending storm and rough seas. Dive teams resumed the search after the storm passed. On March 8, the search and rescue operation resumed and continued through March 10. During those three days the joint rescued operation included the MSP, the U.S. Coast Guard, NRP and the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Department.
During those three days, the rescue team used side-scan sonar to identify areas of interest. The team searched and cleared the plane wreckage methodically, resulting in all parts of the plane being recovered. However, the search was concluded without Richards-Robinson ever being located.
According to the NTSB preliminary report, Ngwa held a private pilot certification with an airplane single-engine land rating and a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first-class airman medical certificate issued Aug. 24, 2017. According to flight school records, Ngwa had accumulated about 81 hours of total flight experience.
At the time of the accident, the recorded weather at Ocean City Municipal Airport included winds around six knots, visibility of around 10 statute miles and overcast clouds at 12,000 feet above ground level. The temperature was around 52 degrees.