Killed in the crash at 11:30 p.m. Saturday of the Cessna 414 twin-engine plane, a six-seater with four people aboard, was rookie Atlantic City police Officer Thomas "Tim" Burns. Burns, 25, of the Sovereign Court Apartments in Atlantic City, died instantly, police said, when his car, sitting at a nearby
intersection, was struck by flaming debris from the plane. Debris also hit another car, but the two occupants were uninjured.
A passenger in the plane, Michael Saal, 42, of Dix Hills, N.Y., was pronounced dead of head injuries at Atlantic City Medical Center shortly after midnight. His wife, Linda Saal, 40, was hospitalized at the center in critical condition, with injuries to the right side of her forehead, her right eye, left hand and pelvis.
Police said the pilot, identified as Richard Imperato, 35, of Farmingdale, N.Y., and the co-pilot, William Roy Dowd, 26, of Patchogue, N.Y., were found dazed and wandering on the street by police after the accident and were taken to the medical center. Imperato and Dowd were reported in satisfactory condition and were not believed to be seriously injured, according to police.
Two firefighters were injured while fighting the plane fire, one suffering burns and the other sustaining back injuries. Their names were not available, but their injuries were not believed to be serious.
Police said the two pilots, employed by East Coast Airways at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, had been assigned to fly the Saals to and from Atlantic City for an evening at the Claridge Hotel & Casino.
According to police, Imperato said that he and Dowd had thoroughly checked the aircraft before attempting the takeoff and that everything appeared in order until the time the aircraft tried to leave the runway.
Imperato and Dowd told police that the first sign of trouble came as Imperato was throttling up to full speed, about three-quarters of the way down the runway. The plane would not leave the ground.
The two pilots said they decided to abort the takeoff, and Imperato began to pull back on the throttle to reduce power. Imperato told police the throttle would not move, and the plane ran off the runway and crashed through a chain-link fence surrounding the airfield. Imperato said he tried unsuccessfully to steer the plane away from the highway, but it went careening across six-lane Albany Avenue Boulevard (Route 40), stopping at the
intersection with Boulevard Avenue.
Atlantic City police Sgt. Steve Mangam said that after crashing through the fence at about 120 m.p.h., the aircraft began to break apart, spewing fuel across the roadway. Mangam said that as it slid across the roadway, one of the plane's motors detached and rammed into the driver's side of Burns' Subaru. Once imbedded in the car, the engine ignited the vehicle, killing the young officer instantly and burning him beyond recognition. Firefighters had to cut off the top of the car to remove his body.
Police said Burns, who had been on the force less than a year, had stopped at the intersection on his way home after dropping off his fiance in Chelsea Heights, a few blocks from the scene of the crash.
Burns' father is Atlantic City police Capt. Michael Burns, and his uncle is Harvey Burns, director of the city's public works department and a retired state police captain.
At the same time, a wheel from the plane struck a northbound car on Albany Avenue Boulevard, hitting the right rear side. Parts of the chain-link fence struck the vehicle's front windshield. The two occupants of the car, who were unhurt, were identified as driver Carl Ekstrom of Poplar Avenue, Linwood, and Robert Fehr of Northfield, N.J.
Pieces of the plane also were found just short of the home of city Councilman James Whelan, on Boulevard Avenue. Whelan's brother-in-law, William Brooks, who was in the house at the time of the accident, said debris knocked down Whelan's fence, stopping close to the front door.
The accident is being investigated by the federal Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board. Police said toxicology tests, part of the investigatory routine, were performed on the pilots.
Imperato told authorities that, to his knowledge, the throttle of the plane had never jammed before, but he said his company rotated its planes among the pilots and that he did not use that one regularly.
Both Imperato and Dowd told police that, after the crash, they ran to the aircraft's rear exit door and helped Linda Saal outside. The burning plane then became fully involved in flames, and they said they could not get back in to rescue her husband, who lay in the back.
Michael Jannetta of the 100 block of North St. Davis Place told police he saw the crash and ran to the scene, where he helped the pilots get Saal out of the wreckage. Firefighters arrived shortly afterward.
Imperato told police that the plane arrived about 5 p.m. Saturday at Bader Field, where a limousine provided by the Claridge picked up the Saals. He said that he and Dowd then took a cab to the casino-hotel, which maintains a room for pilots from his company.
Imperato said he and Dowd went to dinner with four other company pilots and had sandwiches but no alcoholic beverages.
About 8 p.m., Imperato said, he returned to the room and took a shower, then went to the lobby and met the Saals about 11 p.m. Although they had been due to fly back to New York at 1 a.m. Sunday, they decided to leave then at the request of Saal, Imperato told police.