A pilot working for an Eastern Shore company that flies advertising banners over Ocean City beaches each summer was killed Thursday after his plane crashed on a golf course in Worcester County, according to Maryland State Police.
The pilot, identified by police as Garett Colona, 23, of the 5000 block of Sharptown Road in Rhodesdale, was a "super guy" beloved by all the company's other pilots, said Bob Bunting, owner of plane operator Ocean Aerial Ads Thursday afternoon.
"This was one of the nicest individuals I've ever known in my life," Bunting said. "We're in shock."
Police were first called to the small Bunting Airport in the 9700 block of Carey Road in Berlin about 10:50 a.m. for reports of a crash in the adjacent golf course, which was not identified, said Sgt. Marc Black, a police spokesman.
Witnesses at the scene told police the plane, a Piper Super Cub, appeared to have engine trouble after dropping an advertising banner, police said. Witnesses said the wing of the plane then appeared to strike a large tree before crashing, police said.
Colona was pronounced dead at the scene. No one else was injured, Black said.
Bunting said the plane was making a turn, without a banner attached, when things went wrong. He said he couldn't speculate further, and that more information on the crash would have to come from the Federal Aviation Administration's investigation.
Black said the FAA is working in collaboration with the National Transportation Safety Board in investigating the crash. Bunting said he would cooperate fully with investigators.
His company, which began almost 30 years ago and has its offices in Berlin near the airport, had not had a banner plane fatality since 1993, he said.
Bunting described Thursday's crash as a tragedy for an otherwise "fun business."
The company flies banners from Ocean City north to Lewes, Del., including over Fenwick Island, Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Beach.
Though it will be difficult, planes will continue to fly over the beach this summer, Bunting said.
"The business goes on," he said. "There're car crashes every day, there're airplane crashes. It's just a very unfortunate thing, but we don't stop driving cars and we don't stop flying airplanes."
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