Saturday, May 17, 2008: It was an odd day for me. I had plans to do late-day stripering on the beach. To pass time, I went over to my antique shop hang-out, Norm C.’s Two Shore Birds in Eagleswood. After a long chat – with talks of fine striper and weakfish action near the spans – it was getting toward time to go back to LBI. That’s when one of the sitters – a forest fire service member -- at the shop got a Plectron alert. A small plane had gone down within a half mile of the shop, near the Eagles Nest air strip, a small landing strip off Stafford Forge Road.
The odd thing was the call about the downed plane – with four people on-board – came via telephone from Texas. The pilot of the plane had apparently called down there – to the company the pilot worked for (I was told) -- to announce he had gone down and was hanging upside down and bleeding heavily. He did not know his exact location but gave details of his last location, the air strip he had been approaching and the fact he could see large high-tension electrical wires overhead.
As the fire service fellow from our group bolted to get his emergency truck, I jumped in my truck and headed toward the huge high power lines right near the airport. The Forest Fire Service trucks were turning onto the electric company road just as I got there. We all headed along, looking into the woods while bouncing along the piss-poor road.
Let me tell you, it is no easy task looking for a small aircraft amid the woods. It could have been no less than 150 feet in and the budding foliage would have totally obscured it. Sure, there could be fire and smoke but if the plane went down because it was out of fuel there would not be a blaze --which, in fact, there hadn’t been in the case of this crash.
I followed the pitted road all the way to the entrance to the nearby Cox’s Pit (maybe 1.5 miles northward), as the fire vehicles broke away to go down side roads. By this time, other emergency vehicles could be heard coming from all angles; nearly all were on-road.
For maybe 20 minutes, there was still no sign of the downed craft. There were even concerns of a false alarm. However, South Star, the famed emergency chopper – long with a similar-looking sister chopper – arrived on scene and soon located the down plane.
Interestingly, I had started walking down a side road (after parking my truck) because I thought I heard someone yelling. I kept hearing these shouts, so I accelerated down the dirt road, at a slow run – trying to move quickly but also listening in. It turned out the yelling was a young man riding a quad. He was also looking for the plane but was unadvisedly yelling full-bore. After that scare for me (truth be told, I really didn’t want to be the first on-scene), I backed off and went back to my truck. It turned out the plane was found about a third of a mile further down that road. The choppers located it and directed rescue personnel in. Sadly, two folks were already deceased and the other two were badly injured.
I could have gone and taken photos of the crash but that’s just too much even for a writer.
That is a very small airport but that’s at least two fatal accident related to it – though there is absolutely NO indication the strip was at fault in any way. In fact, the craft may have been desperately trying to reach any landing site and happened upon the Eagles Nest on maps all pilots carry to show airstrips.
If you haven’t seen this AP report, this adds more immediacy to the crash since those onboard were part of the bird and wind studies related to ocean wind turbines, a subject I have been writing about for many months.
“…said someone onboard the Cessna 337 Skymaster used a cell phone to contact someone in Texas who is connected to the operation of the aircraft, which had taken off from Millville Airport in Cumberland County about an hour before the crash occurred. That person then called the FAA's flight service station in Leesburg, Va. to report the crash, Peters said.
“Stephen Williams, director of airports for the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which operates the Millville facility, told The Star-Ledger of Newark that the plane was flying as part of a federal study of coastal birds and wind currents along the Jersey Shore, where developers have proposed installing wind turbines.”