Pilot radioed he had no fuel shortly before Atlanta crash

Father, son flying to see Peach Bowl critically hurt

January 03, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The pilot of a small plane that crashed in Georgia on New Years Eve radioed that he was out of fuel and 12 miles from the airport shortly before the Piper Cherokee went down in a suburban back yard, according to a Federal Aviation Administration report dated yesterday.

The National Transportation Safety Board yesterday continued to investigate the crash, which left the Severna Park pilot and his son critically injured.

Witnesses and emergency workers also said it appeared the single-engine plane, registered to a recreational group affiliated with Fort Meade, had run out of fuel.

"My untrained eye tells me that if theres no gasoline at the scene of the crash, then the airplane has run out of gas," said Lt. Dan Dupree, a fire spokesman who was called to the scene that night.

Cpl. Dana Pierce, a spokesman for the Cobb County police, said the elder Pierce sustained substantial facial and lower leg injuries but was conscious when emergency workers arrived.

The boy, Pierce said, had less severe head injuries than his father but was in and out of consciousness at the scene.

Authorities at Grady said both were in critical but stable condition last night. Pierce said Amy Theune flew in from Maryland and was at her husbands and sons bedside Wednesday.

The father and son were headed to the Peach Bowl college football game to watch the Maryland Terrapins play on New Years Day, emergency workers said. They were about five miles away from Charlie Brown Airport when the plane went down.

"He was doing just what you get a private pilots license to do," said John Ferrone, a friend of Theunes. "Attending a football game with your son -- I can't think of any greater use of that license."

Emergency workers said the plane crashed about 10 feet behind a home at about 5:30 p.m. No one on the ground was injured, and the home was not damaged, Dupree said.

The plane was registered to the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Fund for Fort Meade.

The flying component of that group, the Fort Meade Flying Activity club, is based at the Tipton Airport, where Theune took off Tuesday.

Flying club members there are about 300 are primarily active and retired members of the military, civilian employees at military installations or Department of Defense employees, according to the clubs Web site.

Member since 1999

Perry Phipps, acting manager of the Flying Activity, said Theune is eligible for membership because he is a Department of Defense contractor and has been a member since February 1999.

A Web site for the group indicates Theune became its social planning chairman in May.

Club members say they have quarterly safety meetings and an annual flight safety review twice as often as the Federal Aviation Administration requires it.

Ferrone, also a Flying Activity member, called the group close-knit and said members enjoy outings to Ocean City and Frederick.

Records show Theune has a third-class FAA pilot license.

Phipps said an operations officer approved Theunes request to fly out of state and that Theune had obtained all permission necessary to operate the Piper Cherokee, which the Flying Activity acquired in September 1998.

2nd crash in 2 years

The Piper Cherokee is the second plane registered to the Fort Meade Flying Activity to crash in the past two years. In August 2001, three people died after the Piper Arrow they were flying back from a trip to Indiana smashed into South Mountain in Western Maryland.

The pilot, Thomas Stone, 56, was a retired Air Force medic who had been flying private planes for more than 25 years.

His wife, Donna Stone, 53, and family friend Andrew Barone, 54, also died. All three were Anne Arundel County residents.

The NTSB ruled that the plane went down due to weather conditions and pilot error, according to media reports.

Phipps, the Flying Activitys manager, said in the 51 years of the clubs existence, there have been three serious accidents.

Sun Staff Writer Rona Kobell contributed to this story.

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