Crash kills pilot of city police helicopter Second officer aboard seriously injured as unit chased stolen car

November 05, 1998|By Peter Hermann and Eric Siegel | Peter Hermann and Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Michael James, Dennis O'Brien, Richard Irwin and John Rivera contributed to this article.

A Baltimore police officer was killed and his partner was seriously injured yesterday when their helicopter crashed at the B&O Railroad Museum after nearly clipping the dome of the historic roundhouse while searching for a stolen car.

The pilot, Barry W. Wood, 50, is the second city officer to die in five days. The crash occurred as the funeral for Harold J. Carey ended, sending officers dressed for a burial racing from a cemetery to the wreckage on West Pratt Street.

"The Baltimore Police Department is in shock and disbelief," Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said last night.

Witnesses reported seeing the year-old, two-seat Schweizer 300C chopper known as "Foxtrot" circling low over houses about 2: 30 p.m. with plumes of smoke pouring out the back. It then plummeted to the ground, skidded into an iron fence surrounding the museum's entrance and burst into flames.

"It was coming down with smoke," said Andre Carey, 10, who was at a small playground across from the museum. "When I saw it hit the gate, I ran because I was so scared."

Wood, a 27-year veteran who flew a helicopter during the Vietnam War, was rushed to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Dr. Thomas M. Scalea, chief of trauma surgery, said Wood's heart and lungs had stopped, but doctors were able to resuscitate him.

Doctors got the officer into surgery, where he was given 150 units of blood. Scalea said that "despite heroic efforts," Wood's heart failed again and he was pronounced dead at 5 p.m. He is survived by his wife, Martha.

The passenger in the helicopter was identified as Officer Mark A. Keller, 43, a 21-year veteran. He was working as an aerial observer. Scalea said he suffered a broken elbow and a spinal fracture but was "conscious and speaking" last night.

At an 11 p.m. news conference, Officer Gary McLhinney, the president of the police union, called the two deaths "the most tragic events in the history of our agency. But we will get through this."

Earlier in the day, the mood at the downtown hospital was somber as officers poured in to console one another.

Sixteen motorcycle officers who had just escorted the lengthy funeral procession from West Baltimore to Timonium turned around at the cemetery to accompany Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Frazier to the trauma center.

A police chaplain stood by in a first-floor hospital waiting area as two unidentified family members emerged from a room with a police lieutenant. Both were tearful and were comforted by other relatives who had just arrived.

The crash occurred about 2: 30 p.m., and debris forced police to close several blocks along West Pratt Street.

John H. Ott, executive director of the B&O Railroad Museum, said he watched from his office window as police sped east on West Pratt Street. He then saw the chopper fly low over the century-old roundhouse, which holds a collection of vintage locomotives and railroad cars.

Moments later, Ott said, he heard what sounded like a loud bang or an explosion. Other witnesses reported hearing a succession of what sounded like gunshots but actually was the chopper's spinning propeller hitting the museum fence as the crumpled aircraft lay on its side.

Ott said none of the museum's buildings or railroad cars was hit, and no visitors were in the parking lot. He said perhaps 40 people were touring the museum at the time of the crash, along with about two dozen museum staffers.

Officers on the ground abandoned their search, losing the car, and rushed to the crash. They pulled out Keller and carried him to the middle of a parking lot. The pilot was trapped in the wreckage for several minutes before firefighters cut him out.

Police said last night that Keller had seen a stolen car and had radioed for officers on the ground to stop it. Keller was helping the officers locate the car when the craft experienced an apparent mechanical failure.

Weinhold said Wood knew the helicopter was in trouble and managed to dispatch a distress signal over his radio, twice calling out "10-50 Red, 10-50 Red," which means an imminent crash.

Police said the chopper hit a light pole, then fell onto West Pratt Street and skidded through the tall iron fence. The aircraft ended up on its left side, its cockpit destroyed and its tail sticking out onto the museum's entrance way.

A stream of onlookers converged at the scene, including residents of the modest rowhouse community, children on their way home from school and people returning from work.

Joyce Lathe heard the crash from the second floor of her rowhouse in the 100 block of Poppleton St. a half-block away and ran outside to see what happened.

"When I got down, it was smoking," she said. "It was a bad scene. Parts of the plane were splattered all around."

The wreckage was moved to Martin State Airport in Middle River, where the helicopter unit is based. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were en route last night.

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