Pilot dies in plane crash

June 26, 1995|By Christina Asquith and Greg Tasker | Christina Asquith and Greg Tasker,Sun Staff Writers

FREDERICK -- A 37-year-old Randallstown man was found dead near Gambrill State Park in the wreckage of his small plane last night after more than a day of searching.

Pilot Steven E. Weisbrod's single-engine Cessna 182 crashed into the side of the Catoctin Mountains in fog and rain Friday night.

The plane, which had left Richmond, Va., about 7 p.m. last was seen on radar at 8:16 p.m., authorities said.

Searchers flying over the rugged, heavily wooded area about 4 p.m. yesterday reported seeing the wreckage, and a few hours later the area was roped off and a coroner called in.

"The real problem was, it was so foggy, we were near the crash site last night but couldn't see," said Ranger Al Preston, a manager of the South Mountain recreation area, which includes Gambrill.

Mr. Weisbrod, who is married and has two sons, Adam, 14, and Tucker, 10, was an ex-Marine helicopter pilot and a veteran of a significant amount of survival training and crash survival, according to friends.

He moved to Steffeny Road in Randallstown eight or nine years ago and was a self-employed insurance agent. Mr. Weisbrod was believed to be looking at property in Richmond for a possible move there.

Neighbors described him as intelligent and motivated. "Steven was a very good family man," said Jay Gribbin, 40, who had known Mr. Weisbrod for years. "He was very successful. He was very driven to succeed. He liked to live life to its fullest."

Mr. Gribbin's son, Jason, 16, had known Mr. Weisbrod for seven years.

"I always saw him as on the edge. He was a thrill seeker. He liked to bungee jump," Jason Gribbin said.

Marlene Nikoles, 56, who lives down the street, said Mr. Weisbrod and his wife, Sandy, usually kept to themselves. "I used to see them jogging together every day," she said. "I knew their two children."

Mr. Weisbrod left Richmond in clear skies. He was headed for a small airport near Westminster. He was the only person on board.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration in New York, Mr. Weisbrod was not using instruments to fly the plane in the bad weather.

Investigators say that he cleared a ridge just west of the Catoctin Mountains but crashed into the west side of the range less than a mile outside of Gambrill State Park. The FAA said it lost contact with him between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

When Mr. Weisbrod did not arrive home Friday night, his wife assumed he had stayed in Richmond for the evening, said Ed Combs, a friend of the family, who answered the phone at the Weisbrod's home last night. When she had not heard from him the next morning, she reported him missing. Calls to points along the East Coast were made during the day.

By 10 p.m. Saturday, a full-scale search was under way with 150 volunteers from the Civil Air Patrol, the Red Cross and the Appalachian Search and Rescue. The Maryland State Police assisted with dogs, and Baltimore County sent a rescue dog.

"One of the big problems was the fog was so thick we couldn't get a plane up [right away]," said Patty Manown, speaking for the Department of Natural Resources.

"It was like pushing yourself through a big old Laurel sponge; it was real wet, and the foliage was real thick," said John R. Birch, a member of the Appalachian Search and Rescue Conference, which sent a team of 52 out of Charlottesville, Va. "These are pretty healthy woods."

After locating the wreckage from the air, the Civil Air Patrol led teams on the ground to the site by about 6:15 p.m. yesterday.

Zel,.5l Mr. Gribbin was one of several neighbors consoling the Weisbrods at their home last night.

"He liked to hunt," said Mr. Gribbins. "He was very intelligent. He liked to do things like hunting and excursions. He flew. He pushed himself to do things that other people didn't push themselves to do."

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