A small, twin-engine cargo plane headed fo Baltimore-Washington International Airport crashed at an Elkridge industrial park in Howard County yesterday afternoon, killing its pilot.
"It was spiraling. . . . He was spinning," said Larry Richardson, a Linthicum resident who works at a warehouse in the industrial park. "[The pilot] had no control whatsoever. . . . It almost looked like a toy."
The Beechcraft BE8T airplane, operated by Kalitta Flying
Services of Ypsilanti, Mich., crashed at the Route 100 Industrial Park about 3:35 p.m., coming to rest three yards from a building at the complex.
Mr. Richardson said the plane hit the ground with a "solid thud."
No one other than the pilot, identified as Robert Arnold Praastink, 33, of Ypsilanti, was in the plane, and no one on the ground was hurt.
Workers in the industrial park rushed to the plane armed with extinguishers to douse a small fire. Others went with the hopes of helping the pilot.
"I went right for the guy and said we've got to get him out," said Mark Vaccarino, a regional sales manager at Liuski International. "When I didn't feel a pulse, there wasn't any sense in trying to pull him out."
Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the site of the downed plane about 5:30 p.m. to investigate the crash.
The cause is unknown, but yesterday afternoon's strong winds and rainy weather may have been a factor, officials said.
"Obviously the weather is not the best," said Donald Howell, spokesman for the Howard Department of Fire and Rescue Services. "Whether that was a contributing factor, that is why we have the FAA coming in."
Dennis Jones, an investigator at National Transportation Safety Board, said officials will continue the investigation today.
"We have no idea at this point what communication took place between the pilot and the air traffic control tower," he said.
There are reports that the plane circled BWI before crashing, said two officials who asked not to be identified. The plane was facing away from the airport at the crash site.
The plane left the Dayton International Airport in Ohio for Baltimore, but the time of the take-off was not known, said D. C. Sandersen, director of operations for Kalitta, a cargo charter airline owned by drag racer Connie Kalitta.
Pete Sanderlin, a Kalitta spokesman, said Mr. Praastink had been employed there for three years.
The downed plane was built in the 1960s, but had no history of mechanical problems, he said.
The accident came one day after a DC-8 cargo plane, owned by an affiliate of Kalitta Flying Service, made an emergency landing at Denver's Stapleton International Airport in Denver when one of its four engines fell off during flight.
Midge Wood, a sales assistant at Liuski International, a computer sales company at the Howard industrial park, said she saw the plane hit the ground as she sat at her desk.
"I heard a really loud noise, like a truck," Ms. Wood said. "I looked out the window and saw the wing tip. It looked like the wing just butted into the grass."
The plane crashed near the intersection of Amberton and Selnick drives, bottoming out in the lawn of Victaulic Co. of America. The aircraft landed about three yards from the front door of the company, which manufactures pipe fittings.
"I just saw a puff of smoke as it hit the ground," said David Curits, who was typing at his desk at General Conference Transportation. "I ran out and hollered back for [co-workers] to call 911."
Mr. Curits said he ran to where the plane had crashed, carrying a fire extinguisher. About 25 to 30 others grabbed fire extinguishers to douse a small fire under the plane's cockpit and in its left wing as fuel leaked.
Other witnesses said they went to the plane and found the pilot, with his head leaning forward and his arm hanging out the cockpit window. The pilot was still wearing his headset, but packaging had toppled over him.
A mile-long stretch of U.S. 1, between Duckett's Lane and Route 176, was closed for about 1 1/2 hours after the plane crash.
Emergency personnel from Howard, Baltimore, Anne Arundel counties and BWI responded to the scene.