June 26, 2012

Pilot dies in crash off Fort Williams

The Cape Elizabeth park was packed with visitors enjoying the sunny summer weather on Sunday, and dozens watched in horror as the dramatic scene unfolded.

By Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — A man was killed when his four-seater Stinson airplane crashed Sunday into the waters off Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park.

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A witness to the plane crash took this photo shortly after the plane hit the water. The pilot can be seen in the water in front of the plane. The front of the helicopter that helped is visible at the far left.

Photo by MacKenzie Bowker

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The helicopter circles as the plane sinks.

Photo by MacKenzie Bowker

Additional Photos Below

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The man was believed to be the only person on board the plane. As of late Sunday, officials from the Coast Guard, which is investigating the accident, had not identified the man or provided details on what may have caused the crash.

The park was packed with visitors enjoying the sunny summer weather, and dozens of them watched in horror as the dramatic scene unfolded.

Witnesses said they spotted a low-flying plane approaching from the east shortly before noon. The Federal Aviation Administration identified the plane as a Stinson S180.

Carl Dittrich of Cape Elizabeth, who was operating his Atlantic Cookie Co. food cart at the park and placed the first emergency phone call, said at first he thought he was watching a stunt for a movie because he saw a helicopter simultaneously approach from Portland Harbor.

“Then the plane hit the water,” Dittrich said.

The plane sat on the surface for about 20 seconds before it sank, nose first, he said. As the plane sank, a man popped to the water’s surface. Dittrich said the helicopter veered into position near the man and dropped a flotation device to him.

Meanwhile, Frank Marston, who was operating Frank’s Franks food cart, hopped over the chain-link fence along the park’s edge and scrambled over the rocks. He said he shouted to the man, asking if there was anyone else in the plane.

“I think he said he was alone but he was hurt,” Marston said.

The man began making his way to shore, but suddenly slipped under the water. Some surfboard paddlers and a recreational boater were the first to reach the man, some seconds later.

They pulled him on board the boat and started to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, then first responders arrived in a rescue boat and took over.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Paul Brancaleone said the man was unresponsive. He was rushed to the beach at Fort Williams, where he was later pronounced dead.

Melissa Hanning of Sabbatus, who was visiting the park with her family, said the man was so close to shore she could make out his facial features.

“It was so scary,” Hanning said.

Rescue boats continued to search the area because officials could not immediately confirm that there were no other people aboard the plane. The search was called off about 3:30 p.m.

Rescue officials said no flight plan had been filed by the pilot.

The Cape Elizabeth Fire Department cordoned off access to the Portland Head Light area, where they monitored the scene from the shore.

Chief Peter Gleeson said rescue boats from Cape Elizabeth, Portland, Scarborough and the Coast Guard conducted the search for other possible victims.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

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The Portland Fire Boat and other boats converge at the spot where a small plane plunged into Casco Bay on Sunday. Passing boaters pulled a man from the water, but he died.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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A crowd gathers at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, where a plane went down just offshore in Casco Bay on Sunday.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Carl Dittrich of Cape Elizabeth, above, who was operating his Atlantic Cookie Co. food cart at the park, said at first he thought he was watching a stunt for a movie because he saw a helicopter simultaneously approach from Portland Harbor. “Then the plane hit the water,” Dittrich said.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer



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