Friday, May 14, 2004

LINTHICUM, Md. — A small plane carrying checks and other financial documents crashed yesterday into the yard of a home near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, killing the pilot.

No one on the ground was injured when the plane crashed about 7:25 a.m., stopping just short of the home’s front door, authorities said.

“This is nothing short of a miracle that that did not occur,” said Maj. Greg Shipley of the Maryland State Police.

The MU-2 “high-wing” turboprop plane was flying from Philadelphia to a private cargo terminal at BWI when it crashed in the Ferndale area of Anne Arundel County, just east of the airport property and less than a half-mile from the nearest runway.

Hours after the crash, firefighters continued to spray foam on the wreckage to prevent an electrical fire, said Battalion Chief John Scholz of the county fire department. Vapors from the spilled gas would fuel any sparks, he said.

“The hotter the day gets, the more the fuel gives off vapors,” Chief Scholz said.

Temperatures reached the mid-80s yesterday in the Baltimore area.

The plane lay in pieces, with the wings sheared off and the fuselage broken into pieces strewn over the home’s driveway and yard. The wreckage and a nearby pickup truck were covered in firefighting foam.

The plane was one of 11 owned by Atlanta-based Epps Aviation that fly checks and other paperwork for banks in the Northeast, said owner and President Pat Epps.

Mr. Epps said the pilot, identified as Thomas F. Lennon, 34, of Drexel Hill, Pa., was the only person on board.

“This is the first pilot we’ve lost in these 20-plus years we’ve been running this part of the business,” Mr. Epps said.

Mr. Epps said the pilot was part of a tight-knit group known in the industry as “freight dogs” who run cargo flights overnight. Mr. Lennon was part of a group based mostly out of Philadelphia.

Epps Aviation, one of five air operations in the country that transport paper cargo for banks, flies about eight routes a night in the Northeast, Mr. Epps said.

Mike Doyle, 53, said the plane roared low over the neighborhood before it crashed about a block from his house. His home is not in the flight paths of planes using BWI, so he knew something was amiss when he heard the plane overhead.

“He was probably 100 feet over the ground — so low it rattled the house,” said Mr. Doyle, who was getting his three children off to school when the plane went down.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were on the scene by yesterday afternoon. NTSB investigator Paul Cox said the crash left a path of wreckage that was 300 feet long.

The Mitsubishi MU-2 is about 14 feet high and between 33 and 40 feet long. It has a wingspan of nearly 40 feet, with a maximum cruise speed of 350 mph and a range of more than 1,700 miles.

The plane that crashed was under contract with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and was carrying 195,000 checks — written for about $115 million — along with other paperwork, spokesman Pierce Nelson said.

The Federal Reserve Bank uses specialized, private air services to move about 15 million checks a night from one processing facility to another, Mr. Nelson said.

Federal Reserve officials will inspect the checks that went down in the crash to determine if they’re usable, Mr. Nelson said. If not, the agency will trace them using information collected from the banks.

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