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Witnesses heard engine, then impact

July 27, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

William Hann heard the plane before he saw it.

He saw the single-engine Beechcraft for three seconds after it emerged from fog and before it crashed into two boulders on the western side of Fairview Mountain west of Clear Spring around 11:30 Friday morning.

"The engines didn't sound right. You could hear the engines cutting in and out," said Hann, 37, of Warfordsburg, Pa.

Hann and Lucas Coleman, 23, also of Warfordsburg, were building a large shed on property just off National Pike when they looked up and saw the plane about 100 yards above their heads and the shed's roof line.

Hann said the sound of the plane crashing was "worse than any car wreck I ever heard."

There was the sound of tree limbs cracking as the plane skimmed the tree tops, then metal crunching as the nose hit the rocks, then silence, he said.

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When Hann and Coleman led fire and rescue personnel up the mountain and down the western slope to the crash site, it looked as bad as it had sounded.

"It looked like somebody shot a missile into the mountain," Coleman said.

Rocks around the plane had "mushroomed" up from the force of the impact, he said.

When Hann and Coleman heard the crash, they told their boss, Timothy Mesner with SIG Corp., who called the office to have someone call 911. Then they headed into the woods to try to help, but it was too late.

The pilot was dead on impact, officials said.

Hann and Coleman said they could smell rubber and wood burning, but didn't actually see the plane until shortly later when they helped rescue personnel find it.

"We actually went past it and didn't see it because of the fog," Hann said.

Hancock Fire Co. Lt. Derek McBee, 26, was one of the first to arrive at the crash site, taking a slightly more circuitous route than rescue personnel would take later because the fog and brush made it difficult to find.

"It was rocky and there were a lot of snakes," McBee said.

To get to the crash site, rescue personnel drove about a mile north of National Pike up the driveway to Maryland Public Television's transmitter station, which is at 1,462 feet. From there, they drove about 300 yards up a gravel road, then rappelled or climbed about 200 yards down the mountain.

Most of the downward slope was at about a 45-degree angle and difficult to climb because of slippery rocks, firefighters said.

The plane's crash path had left a bit of a clearing, but firefighters had to make their way through heavy brush and rocky terrain to get to the crash site, which was burning.

Firefighters and members of Washington County Special Operations used chain saws to cut a path down the mountainside to the plane to make it easier for firefighters and investigators to gain access, said Jason Willison, 21, a Hancock Rescue Squad volunteer.

"It's pretty tough. I'm pretty tired. It's a lot easier going down than up," Willison said.

Washington County Special Operations volunteer Stan Bryan set up a rope down the slope to make it easier for equipment to be carried up and down in a stokes basket or by firefighters.

Firefighters carried 10-pound fire extinguishers down to spray a dry chemical powder on the plane at first. The yellowish powder was used in case the plane contained magnesium, which can accelerate a fire when it makes contact with water, fire officials said. Magnesium is sometimes used in landing gear and other parts because it is lightweight.

Once it was determined to be safe, firefighters sprayed the plane with water.

The fire was reportedly under control by mid-afternoon. Firefighters were still trying to put out some hot spots around 4:15 p.m.

It was so foggy that the bottom of MPT's broadcast tower was barely visible above the transmitter station. News helicopters from Baltimore could be heard but not seen until one hovered just above the gravel road by the crash site, a Maryland State Police officer said.

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