The crash of '76: near tragedy Surprise: A Piper Cherokee nose-dived into Memorial Stadium's upper deck just after the Colts-Steelers playoff game.

REMEMBER WHEN

November 10, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

There have been many exciting moments throughout Memorial Stadium's 42-year history, but perhaps none more bizarre than the Dec. 19, 1976, aerial exploits by Donald N. Kroner, who crashed a light plane into the stadium's upper deck 10 minutes after a Colts-Steelers playoff game.

More than 60,000 spectators were emptying the stadium after the Steelers' 40-14 victory in the AFC playoff game and fewer than 3,000 fans remained in the stands when the plane hit.

Earlier in the day, Kroner, who had recently been fired from his job as an MTA bus driver for "unsatisfactory work performance," had circled the blue-and-white Piper Cherokee low over the stadium during the game.

"He then made a low pass from the north -- the open end of the horseshoe -- flying just over the scoreboard and the north goal post in what might have been an attempt to land on the playing field," The Evening Sun reported. "The plane banked and climbed, clearing the upper deck railing by a few feet, began to turn right and then fell into the chair-back seats of Section 1 of the upper deck, behind where home plate would be located for baseball."

Ben Roth, assistant stadium manager, was supervising a ground crew placing a tarp on the field when he heard the approaching plane. He told The Sun he looked up and yelled to his crew: "Hey, get out of the way. This guy's coming in."

Former sportscaster Vince Bagli recalled: "I was walking down to the Colts' dressing room and heard this rumbling sound. I thought someone had rolled a garbage can down the ramp until I looked out and saw the plane sitting upstairs."

Scattered debris

The plane, still with fuel in its tanks, sheared off its left wing before it nose-dived into the stands, scattering debris throughout the upper deck and injuring three city policemen.

Police pulled Kroner from the wreckage dazed but seemingly unhurt. He was charged at Northern District police station with malicious destruction of property, reckless flying and violating the law that prohibits flying over the stadium. On Dec. 22, he was taken to City Hospitals for a psychiatric evaluation.

Inside the plane's cockpit, police found a roll of toilet paper, a can of yellow spray enamel, a can of spray snow and a note to Colts' quarterback Bert Jones: "To Bert Jones, QB, from Blue Max. Good luck, you B-more Colts."

Kroner, who told police his nickname was Blue Max, had been arrested by Baltimore County police earlier in the month and charged with reckless flying, littering and making a bomb threat rTC against Bill Pellington, a former Colt who owned a Timonium restaurant.

Kroner, angry at being ejected from the restaurant, flew over several days later, dropping rolls of toilet paper and a bottle on the restaurant roof.

Buzzing practices

He had taken to buzzing Colt practices and had boasted to friends: "I'll be doing some aerobatics. Be sure to watch, It'll be exciting."

To another friend, he said, "I'm going to land a plane in the stadium and give them a real Christmas present."

Found guilty of the charges and sentenced to two years in prison, Kroner said: "I didn't try to kill anybody or kill myself. I'm sorry it happened. I can't see out of my right eye from being hit by a pipe while in City Jail. I've never been in trouble before and will never be in trouble again."

His pilot's license was revoked, and he served three months of a two-year sentence.

But Kroner was unable to stay out of trouble. In 1980, he was arrested and charged with stealing two Greyhound buses from Dulles International Airport, where he was employed as a bus driver.

He was charged later with failing to inform Federal Aviation Administration officials of the Memorial Stadium crash when applying for an FAA medical certificate.

In 1987, he was arrested by Anne Arundel County Police and charged with breaking and entering after he was found wandering in a garage in Pasadena.

Then-Gov. Marvin Mandel, who was getting into a Memorial Stadium elevator at the time of the 1976 crash, best summed up the feelings of many people when he told The Sun: "Thank God it happened when it did. It could have been a terrible tragedy."

Pub Date: 11/10/96

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