Stealth jet crashes at air show 'I have never seen anything like this'

Spectators seek cover as debris rains down

September 15, 1997|By Dan Morse and Karin Remesch | Dan Morse and Karin Remesch,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers John Rivera, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Peter Hermann, Gary Cohn and Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.

Dennis Perry and his wife, Grace, watched the Chesapeake Air Show from the back yard of their home on Galloway Creek in Bowleys Quarters.

They watched intently as the arrowhead-shaped stealth fighter made one circle, then another, rising high in the sky above Martin State Airport in Middle River to circle once more.

Then part of the black jet's left wing fell off.

And Dennis Perry, 50, a retired Baltimore County police detective, turned to Grace, 45, and yelled, "Gracey, run!"

"We hit the ground. Then we heard the explosion," he said. The jet had crashed 600 yards away, across the water. They were safe.

"It was very scary. I'm a retired police officer. I've seen airplane crashes. I've seen it all. I have never seen anything like this."

Neither had most of the 10,000 or so spectators watching the air show at the airport, from their yards in Middle River and Essex and from boats in the many inlets of the Chesapeake Bay along Baltimore County's eastern border.

Henry Roese Jr., 45, of Middle River, and his brother, Eric, 30, of Bowleys Quarters were admiring the stealth and the exaggerated "V" design they had seen so many times on television.

"The plane was coming over from the White Marsh area and was headed toward Middle River before climbing to a pre-announced 10,000 feet," said Henry Roese.

He said the plane flew by the crowd and appeared to be climbing slowly when a piece of the aircraft came off the bottom and there was smoke.

"We thought it was part of the show because other planes at the show were blowing smoke for dramatic effect," he said.

Eric Roese said pieces of the plane were falling off and flames were coming from the rear.

"It was then," he said, "that we knew something was definitely wrong."

He said the plane looked like a kite blowing in the wind and that it appeared that a wing came off just before the pilot ejected.

"When it crashed, and black smoke rose [from] the ground, my brother and I both thought our neighborhoods were on fire," Eric Roese said.

They weren't. But the house next door to the Dimicks' was.

At 3: 02 yesterday afternoon, Bobby Dimick, a commercial crabber, was unloading the day's catch into the walk-in cooler in the yard of his mother's home on Chester Road in Middle River about a half-mile from the south end of the runway at Martin State Airport.

Then he heard a strange noise in the sky.

"I looked up, the pilot's ejected and it's flying at me," said Dimick, 36. It was an F-117A Nighthawk, headed right at him and his 10-year-old daughter, Melissa.

Run for the water, he yelled to Melissa.

"I'm just looking at this plane coming down at us. I yelled at her -- for her to run," said Dimick.

Then the Nighthawk crashed about 50 feet away and burst into flames in the next-door neighbors' yard. The shock wave from the impact knocked Dimick down; Melissa ran behind a van.

"I thought for sure it was going to get us. Luckily we both got out of the way," said Dimick.

Lost in a fire was at least $20,000 worth of his crabbing and fishing equipment.

"I'm just glad everyone's OK. You couldn't replace my little girl. That thing could have landed on both of us. It could have landed on my Mom's house."

Instead, it burned the home of the neighbors next door, who were out of town.

"I just thank God the pilot got out, my neighbors weren't home and my family is safe," said Helen Dimick, 62, Bobby's mother. "Most things you can buy, but you can never replace your family."

Helen Dimick counted her blessings while sitting in the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department station on Susquehanna Avenue in Middle River. Next to her, Bobby Dimick was being examined for smoke inhalation and a sprained arm.

Gary Stonebreaker, 26, of Aberdeen, a BGE employee, was attending a company picnic at Conrad Villa on Edwards Lane about a half-mile from the airport and was watching the stealth jet make a pass over the area.

"It began to spin and I knew the pilot was losing control of the plane, but I didn't think anything was really serious until it went nose down. Then I knew the pilot was in trouble," he said.

Stonebreaker said he saw the plane's canopy open and the pilot eject. "The pilot really came out of the plane at the last minute and would have gone down with the plane if he waited a little longer."

He said it appeared that the pilot was trying to avoid a populated area and that he tried to stay with the plane as long as he could.

"We had about a thousand [people] at the picnic," he said, "and we're all thankful the plane didn't come down on top of us."

Pub Date: 9/15/97

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