This week in Columbia's history: Airplane crashes into Owen Brown house

On a dreary May morning in 1982, residents of Owen Brown village in Columbia heard an enormous sound. Martin Malarkey III ran outside to see what he thought was an explosion in his neighbor's living room. He later saw that it was a small airplane, nose first and upside down in a Columbia house. The plane crash on Deep Cup on May 28, 1982 killed all five passengers, wrecked the Rossini family's house and deeply affected the neighborhood.

The six-passenger twin-engine Beechcraft Travel Air was carrying five city officials from Portsmouth, Va., to Annapolis. It had been slated to land at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, 8 miles west, when the plane's pilot missed a turn toward the runway and failed to follow instructions from air traffic control, the Evening Sun reported.


A report released by the National Transportation Safety Board the year after the crash cited pilot error as the main cause, saying the pilot, Joseph M. Weth Jr., who had no co-pilot, did not have enough experience to fly the plane through the rain and heavy fog, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Becky Malarkey, a neighbor who called 911 that day, was in her house when she and her husband, Martin, heard a sound she described as a "garbage truck rolling down the street." The Malarkeys had just brought their infant daughter home from the hospital the day before.


"The aftermath was total chaos," Becky Malarkey said. Because the plane was leaking gasoline, people feared the house would explode. Someone picked up a garden hose and began to hose down the house, she said, and the leak delayed rescue efforts.

"The authorities didn't really know what to do, it took hours," Malarkey said. Responders eventually sprayed foam into the basement to contain the threat of an explosion from the leaking fuel; they later used a crane to lift the house's second floor in order to remove the remains of the aircraft, the Evening Sun reported.

For the Malarkeys, their biggest fear was that their neighbors were in the house. After calling 911, Becky was able to reach her neighbor, John Rossini, and was relieved to learn that nobody was home.

Though no one on the ground was hurt, those affected noted multiple close calls. One of the most chilling revelations was from the Rossini's then 13-year-old son James. James had been feeling sick that day and was going to stay home, until he remembered that he had a math test at Dunloggin Middle School and went to school instead, he told the Evening Sun.


Though no Columbians were injured, the street, Becky Malarkey remembered, was an "absolute zoo" for days.

"There were undertakers in my house, newscasters in my house, firefighters in my house … there was a constant parade of people," Malarkey said.

In the days after, she said, there were droves of "curiosity seekers," driving by to get a peek at the chaos — the crowds, she said, were especially large because it was Memorial Day weekend.

The sightseers unsettled the whole neighborhood.

"People were sick," one resident, Ron Bombick, told the Sun later in 1982. "They would come by and look for stuff to pick up — trophies. Whenever there's a tragedy people think they have the right to be wherever they want and touch what they want."

The tourists slowed after Memorial Day, Malarkey said, leaving the Owen Brown residents to deal with the aftermath. The residents, mostly young couples with small children, were "pretty close, all very neighborly," she said. When the Rossinis were able to move back home in the fall, the neighborhood held a block party for them, the Sun reported.

The Rossinis themselves — John, his then-wife Mary Jo and their sons James and Patrick — faced multiple obstacles in the aftermath of the crash.

"I think it wreaked havoc on their lives," said Malarkey, who is no longer in touch with the Rossinis or many other neighbors from that time.

On May 10, 1972, a Howard County judge ruled that Mary Stuart, a 22-year-old who had kept her last name after marriage, would have to register to vote under

Members of the Rossini family could not be reached for comment.

In October that year, John Rossini told the Sun that his family had lived in three places in four months while their house was being repaired. Their sons were deeply upset by the crash, and Mary Jo Rossini told the Sun about a recurring nightmare, based on when firemen told the family about the five bodies in the house. In her dream, she said, the numbers could be as high as 20 — "I scream, 'No, you can't fit 20 bodies in my house,' " she said.

The damage was also financially draining for the family, who struggled to recoup the cost of damaged items in their home. More surprising, however, John Rossini told the Sun in 1982, was the pushback from the Columbia Architectural Committee, who objected to many of the changes the family wanted to make as they rebuilt their home.

"It's been so bad that people have joked to us, 'Hey, Rossini, the architectural committee doesn't like that plane sticking out of the side of your house,'" he told the Sun.

Eventually, the house was almost entirely rebuilt, said Cheron Wicker, the current resident. Her family bought the house from the Rossinis 27 years ago.

Due to full disclosure laws, the Realtor told the family about the plane crash, and they were "definitely taken aback," Wicker said. Though she said they had never been concerned about the incident, Wicker often wonders if any of the family members of the deceased have driven by.

Today, Wicker said, the only sign of the accident is a single gash in the asphalt where a propeller from the plane hit a nearby walking path. The spot in front of the house where the plane landed, she said, is now a flower garden.

"It's a very peaceful, beautiful setting now," Wicker said, describing birds and bees and flowers. "It's kind of like they know, nature just kind of knows, you know, what happened."

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