A single-engine airplane that had just aborted a landing at the College Park Airport crashed yesterday afternoon into a fire training building on the University of Maryland campus, killing the four people aboard.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board were trying to determine how the four-seat Beechcraft plane suddenly plunged nose first onto the roof of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute Training Academy, about 400 yards from the runway.
"According to eyewitnesses, the plane didn't have enough altitude, and it veered off to the left," said Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the Prince George's County Fire Department.
Authorities identified the victims as pilot Barry L. Washington, 26, of Lillington, N.C.; Jesse Parker Jr., 44; and his wife, Paulette S. Parker, 41, of Rocky Mount, N.C.; and Fred Harris III, 44, of Fayetteville.
"Witnesses said the pilot just didn't make it," said Joe Urbaniak, 21, a University of Maryland junior who lives at the Sigma Nu fraternity house near the crash site. "It did a flip upside down. . . . It looks like it just got crushed. There was no fire, no flames, no nothing. We just heard all the sirens."
The plane began its trip yesterday at Fort Bragg, in Fayetteville, N.C., stopped about 70 miles north at Rocky Mount, N.C., then flew to College Park, said Lt. Gregory M. Shipley, a Maryland State Police spokesman. Mr. Piringer said the plane "made some type of touchdown" on the runway, but for an unknown reason, aborted the approach and was trying to gain altitude when it crashed about 2 p.m. Investigators said they believe the pilot bounced several times on the runway before lifting off.
Mr. Piringer said the plane apparently lost power, but investigators have found "no indication that it had any kind of engine problem."
Mr. Piringer said Chris Harris, an off-duty Prince George's County firefighter, was in the building when the plane hit. He ran outside, saw the wreckage and called 911. Officials said the plane was crushed on impact, with its engine coming apart and landing about 40 feet away on the roof of the 2 1/2 -story brick and cinder block building.
The fire training institute, run by the University of Maryland at College Park, is near the CSX rail line east of the campus' Fraternity Row. Career and volunteer firefighters from throughout Maryland train there. The plane hit the roof over an auditorium where 40 students had finished a class a half-hour earlier. Mr. Piringer said the building sustained "significant structural damage."
There was no fire or explosion, but firefighters worked for several hours to clean up a fuel spill, Mr. Piringer said.
Officials could not determine yesterday whether the crash was among the most deadly to have occurred at the College Park Airport, which the Wright brothers founded in 1909 and is the nation's oldest continuously operated airport.