BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. - Two small planes collided in the sky over a southern New Jersey subdivision yesterday morning, killing all 11 people on board and raining bodies onto a soccer field and through the roof of a garage.
One plane crashed through the roof of another two-car garage and exploded, setting fire to the home of a couple who were showering and dressing for work.
No one on the ground appeared to have been hurt as a result of the collision, which involved a charter plane carrying civilian employees of the Navy and a plane carrying a licensed pilot and an instructor.
The cause of the crash was not known late yesterday. Both planes were flying without the guidance of air traffic controllers. The pilots were expected to see and avoid other traffic.
The collision occurred at 7:54 a.m., apparently southeast of a sprawling development called Steeplechase that sprang up in recent years in what had been farmland north of Philadelphia, about 10 miles south of Trenton.
The plane carrying the pilot and instructor crashed in a soybean field northeast of the development. The engine of the charter plane plummeted into a front yard, while the fuselage crashed into the garage.
Three bodies landed in the soccer field, where one woman said she had glimpsed two bodies still belted into seats.
Another body plunged through the roof of a garage on Spur Court.
Debris lay scattered like confetti along Steeplechase Boulevard. Jackie Framo, getting dressed, looked out her window to see a chunk of engine smoldering in a crater on her lawn.
"Another few feet and it would have been in my ear," said Ed Trzaskawka, who told the Associated Press that he was preparing for work when most of the charter plane hit the garage of his house on Philly Court and blew up.
According to the New Jersey State Police, Trzaskawka's wife, Cathy, was in the shower.
They grabbed their dog and fled before the house burned.
Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who said Cathy Trzaskawka had worked in the governor's office until several years ago, said at a news conference in a nearby baseball field yesterday afternoon, "If you can look for a bright side of this, the miracle is that no one on the ground was injured. Even in the house into which the plane crashed."
Arlene Salac, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the larger of the two twin-engine planes was a PA31 Piper Navajo registered to Tigress Air Inc. of California, Md., and doing business as Patuxent Airways.
Md. shuttle stop
The smaller plane was a PA44 Piper Seminole, operated by Hortman Aviation, a flight school based at Northeast Philadelphia Airport.
The charter plane, with two pilots and seven passengers aboard, was on a daily shuttle flight between the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey and Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland.
The pilot had flown to Trenton-Mercer Airport under air traffic control guidance, then had chosen to fly under so-called visual flight rules for the second leg, Salac said.
Eileen Bildman of Leonardtown, who is listed with the Maryland Secretary of State's Office as vice president of Patuxent Airways, said she had no comment on the crash.
The other plane, which was carrying an instructor who worked for the Hortman Aviation flight school and a licensed pilot who was seeking an advanced rating, had set off from Northeast Philadelphia Airport.
The two men had planned to fly in a large circle over an area designated by the FAA as a flight practice area, said Herbert Hortman, the owner of the school.
The instructor was Craig Robinson, 28, of Hamilton Township. He was also an officer with the Washington Township Police Department in Mercer County. According to Hortman, Robinson was an experienced pilot with between 1,800 and 2,000 hours of flying time.
Hortman said the plane, a 1982 aircraft, had passed a full maintenance inspection one month ago.
"It does not appear to be a mechanical problem," Hortman said. "It appears to be strictly a midair [collision]. Unfortunately, it's like if you're out driving in your car and somebody drives through an intersection and hits you."