Six Pa. men injured in plane crash en route to rally Aircraft was trying to landat College Park Airport

October 05, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber and Jamie Stiehm | Del Quentin Wilber and Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A single-engine plane carrying six Pennsylvania men on their way to the Promise Keepers rally in Washington crashed while attempting to land at a Prince George's County airport yesterday morning, injuring all on board.

The pilot and passengers, all from Manheim, Pa., suffered burns and other injuries -- none believed to be life-threatening -- from blazing fuel that ignited when the plane slammed into an embankment at the end of the College Park Airport's runway about 8: 45 a.m., state police said.

After hitting the embankment, the six-seat Piper Cherokee clipped a concrete barrier along Metro subway tracks and plunged into a ravine, said Sgt. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman.

Witnesses said the plane, which had taken off from Lancaster, Pa., was 10 to 15 feet above a grassy strip between the runway and taxiway when the crash occurred.

As the plane tried to land, its wheels hit the grass several times before the engine revved as if the aircraft were trying to climb, witnesses said.

Toby Widdicombe, a pilot conducting a preflight check when the accident occurred, rushed to the burning plane and saw the men emerge. "They all just came out of the weeds, seemed dazed and burned," he said.

Volunteer firefighters carried three victims 50 yards through water and up the bank.

"I was amazed. I couldn't believe these guys survived," said firefighter Peter Catanzaro, 22.

Four of the victims -- pilot David Brubaker, 26; Robert Miller, 27; Burke Hulst, 26; and Carl Harter, 25 -- were taken by helicopter to the Washington Burn Center. One man was listed in critical condition, two were in critical but stable condition and the fourth was in stable condition, hospital officials said.

Two others -- D. Neil Zimmerman, 29, and Richard Bowman, 27 -- were treated at Prince George's Hospital Center and released.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash's cause, a spokesman said.

The crash closed the Greenbelt and College Park Metro stations for several hours and forced thousands of rally-goers to be bused to other stops.

Local pilots said the College Park Airport can be tough for unfamiliar fliers, who must negotiate a short runway, nearby buildings and tall trees.

Since 1984, the airport has had two fatal accidents, resulting in eight deaths, records show.

The men involved in yesterday's crash were planning to attend the rally, then fly back to Lancaster, friends and family said.

John Brubaker, 24, was flying another plane with five passengers that landed just before his brother's plane crashed, witnesses said.

David and John Brubaker had attended several Promise Keepers events but had never flown to them, said their sister, Jessica, 16.

"David was excited about it," she said. "He loves flying. He was just looking forward to" the rally.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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