Young and old shaken by terror of plane tumbling toward them Children at play on piers ran or froze as Nighthawk came apart

September 16, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Carmen Bongiorno, 9, can't shake the nightmarish vision of a high-technology fighter plane twisting wildly out of the sky toward him on a sunny afternoon.

"It was like a big black bat, turning and twisting in slow motion," said the child from Bowleys Quarters, one of scores of people still shaken from Sunday's crash of the F-117A into a house on Chester Road.

"I've never felt frozen like that," Carmen said yesterday, using his hands to describe how the plummeting stealth jet headed toward his yard, before veering into the back of a nearby home and bursting into flames. "I never want to feel that way again."

Area residents have grown accustomed to the noise from Martin State Airport, which is used by Maryland Air National Guard C-130s and A-10s, as well as the Maryland State Police helicopter and private jets.

But Sunday was no ordinary day. For the Bongiornos and other residents, life -- and feelings -- won't return to normal for a long time.

A dull thud

When Carmen's father, Victor, owner of a Baltimore County construction firm, saw the stealth fighter smoking and wobbling toward them, he ran.

He darted straight for Carmen, who was playing with friends on a neighbor's pier on Frog Mortar Creek, about 1,000 feet from the spot the aircraft crashed with a "dull thud, then numerous fireballs."

"When I grabbed him, my son was frozen stiff," said Victor, 44, who lives on Susquehanna Avenue. "I just picked him up and yelled for my wife."

The other children on the pier, Andrew and Michelle Urbanowski, ran with their aunt Anna Bialozynski off the pier.

"We were running in terror," said Bialozynski, who lives next door and was celebrating her birthday Sunday. "Andrew kept yelling, 'I think we're gonna be killed.' We thought about jumping into the water."

Worried for son

Another Susquehanna Avenue resident, gripped with fear, took off blindly and ran into a high wooden fence, Bongiorno said.

Rosemary Bongiorno, mother of Carmen and Victor, 16, was washing windows at home.

"It was horrible," she said. "It was like you couldn't move, only watch that plane flutter straight for us."

"While I'm still shaken, I'm most worried for Carmen," she said of her son, who got a late start for yesterday's classes at Crossland Latin School in Northeast Baltimore.

"Carmen told me that when planes land and take off in the future from the Martin airport, he's going to hide under his bed."

The father said he's been unable to sleep since the crash.

"I was riveted on that plane, everything was out of focus," he said, recalling the plummeting plane. "Then I couldn't watch enough on the news. Now I can't sleep. We're all still pretty nervous.

"It's very weird, all I can see is the plane coming at us. We're all numb, being that close to disaster."

He said yesterday that the entire family will enter counseling.

Others find it hard to escape the memories, too.

When the F-117A Nighthawk was dropping from the sky Sunday, Tom Lehner was at the end of his pier two properties down from XTC the Bongiorno's -- several hundred feet from the crash site.

"I grabbed my son Maxwell, put him under my arm like a football and started to run," said Lehner, president of the Bowleys Quarters Improvement Association.

"But it was like one of those dreams where you start to run and run and you never get anywhere, you don't know where you're going.

"None of us will forget this, none of us."

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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