Air Force leaves Bowleys Quarters Last of crash debris removed

repairs begin

September 24, 1997|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

The Air Force, which descended on Bowleys Quarters with an earthshaking bang more than a week ago, left quietly before dawn yesterday.

Workers finished cleaning up debris from a stealth jet fighter that crashed into the Baltimore County community Sept. 14, and guards handed over security of the area to local police. Residents, meanwhile, set about making repairs to their yards and houses.

"One resident said he wanted his old boring Chester Road back, and we want to return them to the same old boring Chester Road," said Air Force spokesman Lt. Jeff Legeer.

The F-117A Nighthawk belly-flopped into the waterfront neighborhood after a piece of its left wing snapped off during an air show flyby at Martin State Airport.

For security reasons, the Air Force evacuated residents and cordoned off a large part of the area as it searched for pieces of the radar-evading plane. Most families were allowed to return after a few days; others had to wait until all wreckage was cleared away.

Yesterday, the quiet neighborhood along Frog Mortar Creek was beginning to recover.

The jet's debris had been cleared and burned trees cut down. Mark and Elizabeth "Betsy" Green's cottage, burned when the jet crashed into their driveway, was boarded up with plywood and plastic, although three burned and twisted cars remained in the front yard.

At Helen Dimick's house next door, a crew from Key Kleaning Service was removing soot and a contractor was surveying damage to the burned porch.

Nearby, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. workers were stringing new wires and replacing poles broken by the fighter when it crashed in the 800 block of Chester Road.

The Air Force investigation into the cause of the crash will take about 60 days, Legeer said. The task is a bit easier because the wreckage was confined to a small area and the pilot, who ejected, lived to tell what happened. Also, the crash was chronicled on videotape and in photographs taken by witnesses.

The plane's remains were taken to a hangar at Martin State Airport, where they will be scru- tinized by investigators trying to determine why a piece of the wing broke off. Some parts of the plane will be tested at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s plant in Palmdale, Calif., where the jet was built.

While a safety board has been convened to determine the cause of the crash and take action to avoid future mishaps, a separate board will investigate insurance and legal claims filed against the Air Force as a result of the crash.

The cause of the accident, if determined, probably will not be released for 90 days, Legeer said.

More than 50 stealth fighter jets -- costing about $43 million each -- have been grounded since the accident, and an Air Force spokesman said yesterday no date has been set for them to fly again.

No one was seriously injured in the Bowleys Quarters crash and most of the fuel was burned, leaving little to contaminate the area, Legeer said.

"It looks like everything is in pretty good shape," he said.

The pilot, Maj. Bryan Knight, has returned to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Knight is a decorated pilot with about 2,700 hours of flying time, including 500 hours in the cockpit of F-117A fighters.

"It's his intention to get back to flying real soon," Legeer said.

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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