The pilot of a single-engine plane used to tow advertising banners over Ocean City managed to walk away yesterday after his plane accidentally snagged two banners instead of one and, dragged down by the extra weight, crashed in a stand of trees outside Berlin.
A week ago, another pilot with the same banner-towing firm, Ocean Aerial Ads Inc., was killed when his plane crashed and burned in a nearby cornfield. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating both mishaps.
Maryland State Police said Nathan Harris Eng, 25, of Washington, D.C., was flying in a 1969 Champion aircraft trying to pick up a banner off a clothesline-style device with a grappling hook yesterday at 11:15 a.m.
Police and witnesses said that Mr. Eng accidentally snagged the first banner with the plane's tail landing gear, not the grappling hook. Then, they said, he dipped lower and the plane's grappling hook snagged the rope on a second banner that was lying on the ground nearby.
"He tried to climb and he couldn't get enough power. He lost altitude and he went down in the woods," said Trooper Philip Fort, who investigated the crash.
A man answering the phone at Ocean Aerial Ads yesterday refused to identify himself and said that no one else at the firm would comment. But he said Mr. Eng, who flies one of six planes operated by the firm out of its private airfield, "made an error" by dipping too low on the pickup.
"He just nestled right gently into the trees," the man said. "He scared us all to death, but he walked right out."
A week ago today, another Ocean Aerial pilot, Leonard Pinero, 31, of Oden, Minn., had just picked up a banner when the plane stalled, plunged into a cornfield and caught fire. He died at the scene, police said.
Yesterday's crash was the third for Ocean Aerial in the past two years, said Michael Benson of the National Transportation Safety Board. Two years ago, another pilot died after making a couple of unsuccessful attempts to pick up a banner.
"I'd think the FAA would take a closer look at the things," Ocean City Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell said of the plane crashes. "It seems like every year one or two will crash."
Mr. Benson said NTSB investigators had interviewed Mr. Eng after last week's crash. "He told us he felt that the operation was safely run by that operator," he said. "We don't have any reason to think otherwise."
Mr. Benson said that it is too early to say what caused either of the two recent crashes. But, he said, "Banner towing tends to attract younger pilots that are looking to build hours so that they can go on and build an aviation career."
Mr. Pinero had about 800 hours of flying experience. So does Mr. Eng, according to the man at Ocean Aerial. Mr. Benson said that commercial airline pilots generally begin their careers with about 1,500 hours.