CAPE ELIZABETH — A man was killed when his four-seat Stinson airplane crashed Sunday into the water off Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park here.

The man was believed to be the only person on board. Authorities had not released his name at press time or provided any details on what may have caused the crash.

The park was packed with visitors enjoying the sunny summer weather, and dozens of them watched in horror as the dramatic scene unfolded.

Witnesses said they spotted a low-flying plane approaching from the east shortly before noon.

Carl Dittrich, of Cape Elizabeth, who was operating his Atlantic Cookie Co. food cart at the park and placed the first emergency phone call, said at first he thought he was watching a stunt for a movie because he saw a helicopter simultaneously approach from Portland Harbor.

“Then the plane hit the water,” Dittrich said.

The plane sat on the surface for about 20 seconds before it sank, nose first, he said. Seconds later, a man popped to the surface. Dittrich said the helicopter veered into position near the man and dropped a flotation device to him.

Meanwhile, Frank Marston, who was operating Frank’s Franks food cart, hopped over the chain-link fence along the park’s edge and scrambled over the rocks. He said he shouted to the man, asking if there was anyone else in the plane.

“I think he said he was alone but he was hurt,” Marston said.

The man began making his way to shore, but suddenly slipped under the water. Some surfboard paddlers and a recreational boater were the first to reach the man, some seconds later.

They pulled him on board the boat and started to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, then first responders arrived in a rescue boat and took over.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Paul Brancaleone said the man was unresponsive. He was rushed to the beach at Fort Williams, where he was later pronounced dead.

Melissa Hanning, of Sabbatus, who was visiting the park with her family, said the man was so close to shore she could make out his facial features.

“It was so scary,” Hanning said.

Rescue boats continued to search the area because officials could not confirm immediately that no other people were aboard the plane. The search was called off about 3:30 p.m.

Rescue officials said the pilot had filed no flight plan.

The Cape Elizabeth Fire Department cordoned off access to the Portland Head Light area, where they monitored the scene from the shore. Chief Peter Gleeson said rescue boats from Cape Elizabeth, Portland, Scarborough and the Coast Guard conducted the search for other possible victims.

 


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