Air Force apologizes for jet crash Officers bring food, flowers to people displaced by accident

September 18, 1997|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Was this the U.S. Air Force or the Welcome Wagon?

Three days after rousting a group of Bowleys Quarters residents from their homes, a squadron of airmen was back knocking on doors yesterday. This time they came bearing bouquets of flowers and bags of groceries -- peace offerings for the havoc caused by Sunday's stealth jet fighter crash.

"Ma'am, we apologize for any inconvenience," Senior Airman Larry Norman told resident Alice Holle from the front porch of her two-story house in the eastern Baltimore County community. "We have some food for you."

Lana Evering got a bouquet, too. But it didn't relieve all her concerns; she and her husband were searching for their cat, T.B., who was missing.

As residents began returning to their homes just after 9: 30 a.m., security-conscious Air Force investigators put the final touches on a line of plastic tarpaulins surrounding the wreckage. Behind the screen, a team charged with determining the cause of the crash began to sift for clues.

On Chester Road, utility crews worked to restore electrical and telephone service. Most residents returned to their homes ready to hold their noses -- three days with no power left them worrying that their homes would be fouled by the stench of spoiled food.

"It's not too bad," said Gloria Stumpf, opening the door of her "get-away" vacation bungalow and taking a whiff. Inside, airmen helped remove a container of oysters from the refrigerator and a rancid pot of beef barbecue from the stove.

Replenished with celery, apples, bottom beef round and other provisions, the Stumpfs and other residents took time from their homecoming to recall details of the crash -- and give thanks that no one had been killed.

Diann Stumpf remembered rushing to aid the pilot, Maj. Bryan Knight, after he had parachuted to safety. She recalled that he asked whether anybody had been hurt.

Gloria Stumpf remembered how family members had been set to go up the block to get a bushel of crabs from a neighbor -- and how the plane crashed near the crab shed before they could get there.

Stanley "James" Schap, who returned yesterday to the house he's called home for 52 years, fought back tears when he recalled the air show crash. He was outside his home, enjoying a family crab feast, when the F-117A tumbled from the sky and landed across the street -- near the home of newcomers to the neighborhood.

"They moved in two weeks ago, and every Sunday for those two weeks they had so many people over there you wouldn't believe it," he said. But no one was home when the plane crashed.

"God must have been with them," said Schap, 84.

His wife, Marie Schap, said it has been a tough year. A flood, sickness in the family, and then this crash -- it was enough to give her husband nightmares, she said.

"He screams at night," she said.

Further up the block, Joe Picarello said, "I'm just glad to get to my own bed."

He and his family had stayed with his in-laws since the crash. He said he was at Martin State Airport, dispensing beer for air show spectators, when he saw the stealth fighter careen out of control toward his neighborhood.

hTC "Thank God my wife and kids were with me," he said. Some residents have started a petition asking that the annual air show be moved from the airport, but Picarello does not support that.

"I think the air show is great," he said. "In one hour driving on the highway, more people are killed than in all the air shows combined."

Residents of 10 households were allowed to return yesterday, but three houses remained all but off limits, an Air Force spokesman said. One house gutted by fire from the crash is uninhabitable. A neighboring home -- where the commercial crabber's shed is -- sits amid the crash site.

Air Force investigators also were concerned about another nearby house, where second floor windows offer a clear view of potentially sensitive military secrets.

Linda Dowell, who lives there, hoped to return soon to her home -- even if it meant living with screens on her second-story windows.

Claims

The Air Force has established a claims office for residents needing assistance because of the plane crash. They may call 410-780-8335, or visit the Bowleys Quarters fire station today and tomorrow or the Air National Guard base at Martin State Airport on Saturday. Hours are 8: 30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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