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Pilot skill credited in survival of bay crash 'Perfect' landing helped save family

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Megan Childs and her four sisters came away safely from a private plane crash in Chesapeake Bay yesterday, thanks to what one official called a perfect emergency landing by her father.

Megan, 12, and one of her sisters opened the doors to the plane as it settled into the water just south of the eastern end of the Bay Bridge, and she passed out life jackets while boats from a marina sped to their aid.

"We're all really good swimmers," said the Magothy River Middle School student, who is on a swim team.

"I was just thankful for that, and also for the fact that we didn't hit land."

Her father, Robert Childs, 43, of Meredith, N.H., and his wife, Gail, 45, were treated at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center and released last night.

The children, ages 3 to 16, were treated at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis and released, said Mary Lou Baker, a hospital spokeswoman.

Mr. Childs was flying his wife, his three children and two stepchildren back to New Hampshire when the twin-engine plane lost power and fell into the bay off Kent Island.

Megan Childs said her stepmother was in the seat next to her father and the children were in the back talking when the plane began to shake.

She said the 28-year-old plane dipped, its left wing nearly hit the water and within seconds it crashed.

"I've imagined plane crashes before and it's just nothing that you can possibly imagine," said Megan.

"Just the thought of planes is going to always make me think of the crash now."

Her stepsister, 13-year-old Colleen Jerald, opened the emergency door as the six-seat plane started to fill with water and sink, Megan said.

Another stepsister, 16-year-old Noelle Jerald, grabbed life jackets, and everyone jumped into the bay.

Private boats and police responded. Charles Navis, 28, of Grasonville said he was repairing a boat at the Bay Bridge Marina off Route 50 when he heard a report of the crash over the marina radio, jumped into a fishing boat and sped to the scene. He dived into the water, put two life jackets on Mrs. Childs and pulled her into the boat.

"I knew the minute I got into that boat that I was going to be going into the water," Navis said.

Navis and William Bryan, another marina worker who assisted in the rescue, said the family was nearly hysterical as they were ferried to the docks alongside Hemingway's restaurant.

Biana Bellafloures, owner of the restaurant, said she and a few employees dried off the children with tablecloths, gave them ice water and wrapped them in sweat shirts on sale by the restaurant while they waited for ambulance crews to arrive.

She said the children seemed dazed, with one of the teen-age daughters quaking so violently her fingers were unable to dial a restaurant telephone to alert relatives.

The twin-engine Piper Navajo had just taken off from the Queen Anne's County Bay Bridge Airport and climbed about 75 feet before it lost power, witnesses said. Witnesses said the engines just seemed to quickly die before the crash.

"It was like you didn't hear any engines making the right engine noise," said Bryan, 20, of Queenstown.

"It was like it just belly-flopped into the water," said Biana Bellafloures, who was setting tables on the deck at Hemingway's for the Memorial Day weekend rush when she saw the plane go down.

John Pepe, manager of the airport, said that Mr. Childs was familiar with the airport, had a full tank of fuel and probably avoided more serious injuries by keeping the nose of the plane up as it crashed.

"He did a perfect job of making an emergency landing," Pepe said.

Beverly Nurse, an investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the plane would have to be hauled up from the bay before the cause of the crash could be determined.

The plane rested in about six feet of murky water last night with its tail, visible from the shore, protruding from the water.

The children other than Megan, Colleen and Noelle were Taylor Childs, 3, and Jessie Childs, 4.

They were taken by ambulance to the Anne Arundel Medical Center.

The Childses had lived on Oak Court in Severna Park between 1987 and 1993 and keep strong ties to Anne Arundel County.

Robert Childs has owned Broadneck Nurseries in the 400 block of College Parkway in Arnold for the past 15 years, said Connie Leonard, an administrative assistant at the garden center.

Kathy Gloersen, who has worked at the nursery for two years, said that Mr. Childs flew back from Meredith, N.H., every week to see how the nursery was doing.

Pub Date: 5/25/96

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