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Stealth Fighter Crashes Into 2 Homes

Aviation: Air Force aircraft was flying in air show near Baltimore when piece of plane broke off, witnesses say. Pilot, six others suffer minor injuries.

September 15, 1997|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — An Air Force F-117A stealth fighter that was performing for crowds at an air show in a Baltimore suburb crashed Sunday into two houses on a Chesapeake Bay marina, injuring six people on the ground.

Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the F-117A's pilot, later identified as Capt. Bryan Knight, ejected safely and was treated for minor injuries at the scene of the crash near the Glenn Martin State Airport in Middle River, Md.

Steve Gisriel, a captain with Baltimore County's fire communication operations, said six people at the marina complex sustained minor injuries and were not hospitalized. They were not immediately identified.

The crash occurred about 3 p.m. EDT during the annual Chesapeake Air Show at the airport, 13 miles northeast of Baltimore, just as the $45-million black stealth aircraft was flying over the crowd.

Several witnesses said they saw parts of the plane break off just before it went down. An amateur video showed that a piece of the plane--apparently from the tail or a wing--broke off as the F-117A started to climb after flying level over the airfield. The aircraft then flattened out and rolled before suddenly tumbling earthward.

Officials said the plane was carrying 11,000 pounds of fuel, and the impact of the crash ignited a fireball, destroying the two houses.

Gisriel said the fire was under control about an hour after the crash and a three-block area was being evacuated for military officials to conduct their investigation. Up to 50 people were forced from their homes, he said, and military police were brought in to help guard the area.

Andy Kunkowski said he was watching the show from a small boat near the shoreline and immediately went to the scene and spoke to the pilot after he parachuted to the ground.

"He said he was truly sorry about what had happened and said he tried to pull it out," Kunkowski told the Associated Press. "He wanted to land this thing in the water but couldn't."

Kimberly Chaapel, a local resident, told reporters she was watching the air show when the crash occurred.

She said she later learned that the pilot landed in her uncle's yard and that the pilot was seen walking around and complaining of pain.

Capt. Keri Humphrey, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said the pilot was taken to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for observation. Officials said he had minor back and neck injuries.

Bacon said the military often uses the stealth aircraft at local air shows, adding that the cause of the crash had not yet been determined. Officials said the aircraft's black box had been recovered.

"This has been a very flyable plane," he said. "It had a tremendous record in the [Persian Gulf War]. We will investigate this, obviously, and completely--both the cause of the accident and the circumstances behind the accident."

The Air Force said the F-117A had taken off from Langley Air Force Base, Va., and was to return after flying by the air show.

The aircraft, assigned to the 7th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., was one of two F-117As loaned temporarily to Langley to support air shows along the East Coast, the Air Force said.

F-117As were used in the Gulf War against the most heavily defended Iraqi targets because they carry laser-guided bombs and can evade radar. The plane was produced during the Cold War as a nuclear strike weapon and is widely recognized for its "batwing" appearance and its special components that deflect radar signals.

The planes were built by Lockheed Corp. before it merged with Martin Marietta Corp. to form Lockheed Martin Corp. They were built as part of a super-secret Air Force "black" program, and the first was delivered to the Air Force in 1982 and the last in 1992.

Humphrey said three stealth fighters have been destroyed in crashes since the F-117A was put in official service in 1990. The only fatality was on a night training flight in 1995 in New Mexico.

Before the planes were in official service, there were at least three crashes--one when Lockheed was testing it and two fatal wrecks in California and Nevada in 1986 and 1987.

Times wire services contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Stealth Fighter Crash

Six people were injured on the ground when an Air force stealth fighter crashed during an air show at Glen Martin State Airport in Middle River, Md. The pilot ejected safely from the plane, which was carrying about 11,000 pounds of fuel.

The F-117A Stealth Fighter

Crew: One

Cost: $45 million

Speed: High Subsonic

Weight: 52,500 pounds

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