Pilot killed in crash of banner plane
Tuesday, July 02, 2002
WALL TOWNSHIP - A banner plane crashed on takeoff and exploded into flames Monday, killing its lone occupant.
The single-engine Piper PA-18, registered to Aerial Sign Co. Inc. of Hollywood, Fla., cartwheeled across a runway at Allaire Airport after one of its wings hit the runway, said Arlene Salac, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The plane, which was fully loaded with fuel, came to rest briefly before being consumed by flames in the 11:45 a.m. accident.
The pilot, a Neptune Township man, was pronounced dead at the scene about 1:10 p.m., police said.
His name was being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
The plane was to carry advertising banners over the beaches of Monmouth and Ocean counties.
Company officials were still trying to notify the next of kin of the victim, who live in South America.
WALL -- A single-engine banner plane crashed and burst into flames moments after taking off from Monmouth Executive Airport yesterday morning, killing its lone occupant.
TANYA BREEN photo
Matt Applegate (right), co-owner of the banner-towing airplane company, said his other pilots were distraught after Monday morning's fatal accident.
Mauricio Garcia, 24, of Neptune City, had just lifted off from the airport's banner-plane runway at 11:45 a.m. when his Piper PA18 SuperCub airplane tilted to the right, causing its right wing to touch the ground and send it tumbling nearly 100 yards north of the runway, Sgt. Al Della Fave of the State Police said.
The plane came to a brief stop; then the 54-gallon fuel tank, which was full, exploded.
Garcia, whose family lives in Colombia, was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:08 p.m. by Dr. Jay Peacock of the Monmouth County Medical Examiner's Office. Neither the State Police nor the Monmouth County Medical Examiner's Office said when an autopsy would be conducted.
The plane is owned by Aerial Sign Co. Inc. of Hollywood, Fla., which has been operating out of the former Allaire Airport for at least 20 years, said airport owner Edward I. Brown. The plane, which was to carry an advertising banner along the coast from Cape May to Sandy Hook, had not yet picked up its banner, which lay less than 10 feet off the runway.
According to National Transportation Safety Board records, the plane destroyed yesterdayhad been involved in an accident in February 1997 in Chile.
According to that report, the pilot, who Aerial Sign Co. officials said was not Garcia, lost control of the plane. It struck a fence, cartwheeled and then fell into an embankment. The pilot of that flight was also on a banner-towing assignment and suffered minor injuries. The aircraft was heavily damaged, the report said.
Matt Applegate, co-owner of Aerial Sign Co. and manager of the company's Northeast region, said the plane was completely rebuilt after that accident, basically creating a "new aircraft."
Aerial Sign Co., which has 20 banner planes operating out of the Wall airport and 32 others operating elsewhere in the country, has never had a fatal accident in New Jersey. The company's last fatality was eight years ago in Florida, Applegate said.
"Something like this is very infrequent," he said. ""That's why everybody is so broken up about it."
Although banner planes continued to take off from the airport yesterday, Applegate said none of his pilots flew.
"I had five airplanes scheduled for today, and I stopped everything because those guys are really broken up," Applegate said.
Garcia began flying with Aerial Sign Corp. two months ago and commuted from Florida to New Jersey during the work week. Before that, he had worked as a pilot for another aerial ad company in Florida, Applegate said.
"I didn't know him very well, but I know he was a nice guy and a good pilot. Everything I saw of his flying abilities told me that," Applegate said.
The accident is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the NTSB. FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac said determining the cause of the accident could take weeks or even months.
The Wall Police Department, EMS and First Aid Squad responded to the scene, as did the Glendola Fire Department, the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, Monmouth County HazMat unit and New Jersey Department of Aeronautics. Staff writer James Prado Roberts contributed to this story.