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Fighter Breaks Up At Air Show $45 Million Plane Crashes Into Condo Complex; 6 Hurt

Mon., Sept. 15, 1997

An F-117A stealth fighter broke apart during an air show performance and crashed into two houses Sunday, setting both on fire and causing six minor injuries on the ground. The pilot ejected safely.

The crash happened about 3 p.m. as the jet was making its final passes during the Chesapeake Air Show at the Glenn Martin State Airport.

Several witnesses said they saw parts of the plane break off just before it went down. Home video of the crash showed a piece of the aircraft, apparently from the tail section, fly off the jet before it went into a slow, flat spin and crashed.

“Some people were saying it was part of the show,” said Rudy Medina, who was at the air show. “But I knew it wasn’t part of the show. No aircraft of that caliber disintegrates in midair like that.”

The plane, carrying 11,000 pounds of fuel, went down about a mile from the airport, into two houses and two cars at a condo-marina complex on Chesapeake Bay in this Baltimore suburb.

Baltimore County Fire Capt. Steve Gisriel said six people at the complex suffered minor injuries and were not hospitalized. Among them was an elderly woman who managed to escape her home seconds after the plane slammed into her garage.

The pilot, identified as Capt. Bryan Knight, was taken to Andrews Air Force Base for evaluation of minor back and neck injuries.

Witness Kimberly Chaapel said she noticed that “part of the wing fell off” before the plane went down and the pilot ejected.

“He started rolling head over tail, and (the pilot) ejected probably 500 feet before the ground,” she told CNN. “He was very, very lucky.”

Andy Kunkowski, who was watching the show from a small boat, said he immediately went to the scene of the crash 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 said. “He wanted to land this thing in the water, but couldn’t.”

The fire was brought under control about an hour after the crash. A three-block area of the neighborhood was evacuated for military officials to conduct their investigation into the cause of the crash. Military police were brought in to help guard the area.

“It is a secret aircraft, obviously we want to protect it the best way we can,” said Capt. Drew Sullins, a Maryland National Guard spokesman.

Sullins said he was not aware of any communications between the pilot and the control tower at the airport, but said the aircraft’s black box had been recovered.

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 at Langley to support air shows along the East Coast, the Air Force said.

The boomerang-shaped F-117A Nighthawk, armed with laser-guided bombs, was used in the Gulf War against the most heavily defended Iraqi targets because of its ability to evade radar and radar-guided missiles. According to an Air Force fact sheet, each F-117 costs $45 million.

Stealth technology reduces radar reflection - known as a cross section. Using the technology, a plane with a 43-foot wingspan displays the cross section of a bumblebee.

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