Three friends bound for a NASCAR race in Tennessee were killed yesterday when their small plane crashed shortly after takeoff into a patch of woods near a Jacksonville home.
Baltimore County police identified the victims as Theodore C. Ryder, 45, who was piloting the aircraft, Paul E. Sorensen, 48, and Timothy H. Conner, 48 - all from Joppa. There were no injuries on the ground, officials said.
Officials said the plane, a six-seat Piper Saratoga, took off from Harford County Airport in Churchville at 9:06 a.m. and crashed about nine minutes later. The plane was heading for Abingdon, Va., and family said the three expected to attend a car race in nearby Bristol, Tenn.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash, which occurred in the yard of a home in the first block of Country Club Drive, a quiet stretch of road in northern Baltimore County. The cause of the crash is unknown.
"They all died immediately, as far as we can tell," said Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Fire Department.
Laura Plunkett, who lives near where the accident took place, said she was about to wash her laundry when she heard a loud boom. Hurrying to a window, she saw a plume of smoke rising from the woods and debris scattered on the ground.
"It didn't look like a real plane," said her husband, Dan Plunkett, who along with another neighbor were the first on the scene of the crash. "I thought it was part of a remote-controlled plane."
Most of the single-engine aircraft appeared to have sunk into the earth, but mangled pieces lay scattered across the woods and the lawn of the home. As a light rain fell yesterday afternoon, rescue workers removed the bodies of the victims and probed the remains of the plane.
Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said that a private pilot would have had to complete special training to fly in yesterday's rainy, foggy weather.
"Flying a plane is like any other endeavor - there are risks involved," he said, emphasizing that pilots undergo extensive safety training.
The Federal Aviation Administration's pilots directory lists Ryder as having both private pilot and instrument ratings, meaning he was certified to fly using his instruments in adverse weather conditions. An NTSB spokesman, Ted Lopatkiewicz, said the pilot filed an instrument flight plan.
A man who answered the phone at Ryder's home and identified himself as Ryder's brother-in-law, but who would not give his name, said the family did not know what caused the crash. The man said he had flown with Ryder several times.
"He was one of the most cautious people," he said.
A battered wing of the plane lay a few feet away from the manicured shrubs of the home of Edward and Nancy Bromwell. No one was home at the time of the crash. The Bromwells were out of town, and their daughter, Katie Bromwell, 27, was on her way to water her parents' plants when she heard about the accident.
Edward Bromwell is the brother of former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr.
Katie Bromwell and her brother Todd, 22, a Tennessee resident who was visiting his sister, stood on the porch of their parents' home, shocked by the scene in the yard.
"We used to have a rope swing right in that tree over there," Todd Bromwell said, describing the crash as "surreal." The falling plane had toppled a few trees and scraped the bark from others. Green and white pieces of the plane hung in the branches of one tree.
Neighbors speculated that the plane might have been trying to make an emergency landing at the Hillendale Country Club's golf course, which is a few hundred yards away.
"I can only guess that they were trying to get to the golf course, and they just didn't make it," Plunkett firstname.lastname@example.org
Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.