The pilot of the single-engine plane that crashed at Tipton Airport in Anne Arundel County on Thursday, killing the pilot and a companion, did not signal any distress to the control tower, a federal investigator said yesterday.
Relatives and business associates identified the two victims yesterday as Daniel Lee Eberhardt, 57, of Downers Grove, Ill., and Bobbi Getz, 56, of Pittsburgh.
The preliminary investigation into the accident did not show structural or mechanical problems, said David Muzio, the lead National Transportation Safety Board crash investigator for the accident.
"We don't have any evidence to suggest an in-flight fire, nor have any witnesses reported any smoke or flames," he said.
According to a report on AVweb, the pilot was ordered to "immediately" to land at Tipton by air traffic control because aircraft had allegedly violating the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).
Tipton has a 3,000-foot runway that was once an army airfield. It is well within the ADIZ and is bordered by part of Fort Meade, the National Security Agency and a wildlife refuge.
At 3:45 p.m., the 1987 white and red- and black-striped Piper Malibu took off from Tipton Airport, which borders Fort Meade and the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge.
The pilot - it is not clear whether it was Eberhardt or Getz - shortly thereafter radioed that the plane was headed back.
Seconds later, it clipped the top of a tree and crashed into a clearing in a wooded area near the runway. A fire roared through the six-seat craft, consuming the engine's fuel and charring much of the plane.
Hunters at the scene said the engine sounded over-revved and reported hearing a high-pitched whining noise before the engine stopped and the plane went down. Investigators are trying to determine if weather was a factor. It was cloudy that afternoon.
"We're documenting the wreckage, securing the aircraft and surveying the crash scene," Muzio said. "There's so much information that we're waiting on."
In the meantime, family and friends of Eberhardt and Getz said the pair were high school sweethearts who reunited four years ago and shared a love of flying and family.
"He was a great-hearted person, very compassionate and intelligent," said Stan Sypien, Eberhardt's son-in-law. "He was a father figure since the first day I met him."
As chief executive officer and founder of MRC Polymers, a plastics recycling company, Eberhardt created a family atmosphere at the plant, according to a colleague. He reached out to immigrant workers, offering Spanish and English classes to employees.
"He was the most caring CEO I've ever worked for, he was more concerned about the staff and the plant than himself," said Steve Sola, chief financial officer. "And that makes it hard for everyone here."
Eberhardt, a pilot with about 14 years of experience, used his plane for business and pleasure, checking on plants, most recently in Mexico, Sola said.
"I felt very, very, safe flying with him," Sola said.
He was in the Washington area for a three-day recycling convention, Sola said, and was likely headed back home.
A certified public accountant, Getz was a student pilot, according to NTSB. Her son said yesterday that Getz took a leave of absence from her job to spend more time with Eberhardt.
"I'm glad that Mom and Dan died together," said Grant Getz, 21. "They were inseparable."
Today, NTSB officials are expected to transport the plane wreckage to Clayton, Del. for further investigation. A preliminary report is expected as early as Friday.
The Chicago Tribune contributed to this article.
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