Living at ground zero Background: A settlement from the Air Force has helped Mark and Betsy Green replace the home destroyed by a stealth fighter.

September 20, 1998|By BOB GRAHAM | BOB GRAHAM,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Mark and Betsy Green had been in their house just two weeks.

It was a nice, waterfront bungalow in Bowleys Quarters, a few minutes from the edge of the runway at Martin State Airport in eastern Baltimore County. The Greens had plans to renovate their home in the coming years. Little did they know that changes would be coming much sooner than they ever could have dreamed.

It was Sept. 14, 1997 -- a sunshine-filled Sunday -- when the Greens left their home for a day on the Eastern Shore.

By sunset, their $155,000 home at water's edge had been turned into a burned-out, charred hulk. The Greens' nice, waterfront bungalow that afternoon had become ground zero when a stealth fighter, performing at an air show, lost a wing and slammed into the kitchen. The ensuing fireball destroyed their house on Chester Road, along with most of the Greens' belongings.

The Greens had little inkling that almost everything they still owned was riding with them as they began their drive back home. Only then did they begin hearing on the radio of the crash in their neighborhood.

"I knew it was real close to our house," Mark recalled. "Then, as I was pumping gas near Easton, I got this feeling -- that we needed to get home right away to see what was happening."

When the Greens reached eastern Baltimore County at 5: 30 p.m., two hours after the crash, police stopped them at the Bowleys Quarters firehouse; only military officials and emergency vehicles were allowed on Chester Road.

Everyone else was barred, but it became clear from reports coming out of the site that their home was gone. They were lucky to have their lives, if little else.

It's not uncommon for homeowners to start anew after fire, flood or another natural disaster. But few can say they had to rebuild because of the crash of a $45 million F-117A Nighthawk.

And now, a little more than a year since the day their house was struck, the Greens have rebuilt with the help of a settlement from the Air Force, and they now live in a new two-story, three-bedroom contemporary home.

The Greens knew they wanted to rebuild on the site they had come to love. "It was on the water, in a good location, and there was a lot we could do with it," Mark Green said.

After the crash, military officials prevented the Greens from going on-site for three days before allowing them to view what was left of their 40-year-old home. It would be two more days before they would be allowed to venture inside.

From the outside, they could see right through the house. The roof and kitchen walls were gone, and other walls were burned or blackened. The floors of the two-bedroom, one-story house were waterlogged.

Also destroyed were a 30-foot storage trailer, containing many of their belongings, and two pickup trucks and a vintage car.

"It was just a complete loss. Everything was destroyed. What wasn't destroyed by the fire and intense heat after the crash was destroyed by the water they used to put it out," Betsy Green said.

The Greens salvaged a fireproof safe, two christening dresses worn by her daughters, several guns and a cedar chest containing some photographs.

"You don't fully comprehend until you actually see it that you lost everything," said Mark, offering pictures of the destruction, including one where a jet wing with the insignia "Screaming Demons" visible, rests atop a pickup truck in the Greens' driveway.

The Air Force, which quickly said it would make things right for the Greens, did just that, the couple said. The Greens declined to discuss terms of the settlement they reached with the Air Force in January, saying, "It's personal stuff, but both sides received a fair deal."

"Despite what people think, we still have a mortgage and we still have car loans," Mark said.

Air Force officials refused to comment specifically on the settlement. But since the crash, 22 claims from people affected by the crash have been settled, said Lt. Col. Dewey Ford, public affairs officer for the Air Force Air Combat Command, for which the jet was flying in the air show. With a few claims still outstanding, Ford said, the settlements total $375,895.

The Greens and other claimants, including some of the 10 families displaced for several days after the crash, sought funds under the Military Claims Act, a federal law allowing people to receive compensation from the military. But those losses must be proven, through receipts, photographs and other materials. No punitive damages are awarded.

"This was not a windfall for anybody," said David Bolgiano, a Baltimore lawyer and former judge advocate general hired by the Greens to negotiate a settlement. "The Greens could have claimed more stuff, they could have padded the settlement in places, but they chose to do the right thing because that's the type of people they are."

Once the claim was filed, military claims adjusters reviewed every item on the list, making sure no discrepancies or irregularities were found, Ford said.

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