The pilot, Richard Imperato, 35, and the copilot, William Dowd, 26, managed to drag Linda Saal off the airplane, police said, but the craft was engulfed in flames before they could rescue her husband. An autopsy showed he died
from head injuries.
A passing police officer found Imperato and Dowd, both of Long Island, wandering dazed about a half-block from the wreckage. Both suffered multiple injuries, and were in satisfactory condition yesterday, a hospital spokeswoman said. A firefighter also was admitted to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.
The twin-engine, six-passenger Cessna was chartered for the Saals by the Claridge Hotel & Casino. Imperato had "attempted to take off, but the plane would not," said Detective Sgt. Steve Mangam. The pilot tried to abort the takeoff before the plane left the ground, but the craft slammed at 125 mph through a chain-link fence that surrounds the airport, broke into pieces, skidded across Route 40 and caught fire.
An engine was knocked off one of the plane's wings and rocketed into the driver's door of Burns' compact car, which was halted at a stop sign less than a block from the airport. The car, pushed against the wall of a nearby building, exploded in flames, and Burns was killed instantly, police said. Burns had just dropped off his fiancee at her home in the Chelsea Heights section of Atlantic City.
"He never had a prayer," said Mangam.
Burns' father, Michael, is a police captain in nearby Brigantine.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said the cause of the crash was not known. National Transportation Safety Board investigators were examining the wreckage yesterday in an effort to determine the cause.
The Claridge had hired the plane to fly the couple to Atlantic City earlier Saturday, police said. They were the only passengers.
After crashing through the fence, one of the plane's wings tore off and a piece of landing gear attached to it hit a passing car on Route 40. No one in that car was hurt.
The plane continued sliding across Route 40 - with debris striking several other cars - before the engine flew off and struck Burns' car. The craft finally stopped when it hit a building about 200 yards from the airport
runway and burst into flames, police said.
The fire, which spread to the building, was quickly extinguished by the airport's fire department.
Imperato and Dowd work for East Coast Airways Limited of Farmingdale, N.Y., the plane's operator.
Bader Field, sandwiched between the Intracoastal Waterway and a six-lane stretch of Route 40 that links Atlantic City to the mainland, has frequently been the site of aircraft accidents.
"It's a good thing this one happened at night," observed Mangam. "If it would have happened in the day time with all the (casino) buses around, we might have 50 people dead."