Shock And Sorrow ... And Luck ... As Fireball Falls From Sky With AM-Planes Collide Bjt
Nov. 12, 1985
CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. (AP) _ Marco Mezzina built his butcher business for 20 years only to lose it to a fireball of metal that plummeted from the sky.
The flames gutted the home Domenico Gentiluomo, a 38-year-old forklift operator, shared with his wife and three children, leaving him with ''not even a penny to start my life now.''
There was shock and sorrow in this mostly Italian working-class neighborhood where a Sunday afternoon's calm was shattered when a corporate jet and a small private plane collided and crashed in flames. Five people in the planes were killed and a resident was missing.
Debris was scattered over 20 blocks in two towns but the worst destruction was along Cliff Street here, where a row of homes were leveled and gutted by the wreckage of the jet and the fuel-fed fire it ignited.
''I don't know how you are going to replace your business, your life,'' the 48-year-old Mezzina said Monday.
His store, Marco's Meat Market, was on the ground floor of a three-family house. The residents escaped but the building was destroyed.
He mourned the loss of his hard-won business - ''At his age, you can't start all over,'' said his wife, MaryAnne - but surveying the smoldering ruins he knew it could be worse.
''I'm looking at what happened. We were lucky,'' he said.
''I was sitting in the living room having a cup of coffee, just a cup of coffee, talking,'' he said. ''As soon as I heard the explosion, we ran out. I'm happy with my life.''
Joseph Gramuglia, 29, found his apartment damaged by smoke and water when he was allowed to return Monday.
''They let me go in to get my wallet and keys. It's all ruined,'' said the shoe store manager who lived with his mother and five other relatives.
But he added, ''I'm just glad I'm alive.''
Rob Wamsley was in his back yard when he looked up to see a jet in flames pass low over power lines and nosedive into an apartment building.
''It was like a meteor, a whizzing sound ... then an explosion. It was already in flames when it hit the ground,'' Wamsley said.
Ronald Esposito heard a whirl and a bang and reached the scene seconds later to find a mangled plane door covered with blood and a white baby shoe in the street.
''It was ... a total blaze of fire,'' said Esposito. ''It just spread like crazy. My feet were bouncing under me (with fear).''
Eugene Nappi, a 30-year-old firefighter, said he looked up to see the smaller plane's lights flicker as the jet hit.
''I couldn't believe to see those planes crash and know in five seconds there was going to be a disaster all over town,'' he told The Star-Ledger of Newark.
Joseph Manzo, a 21-year-old construction worker from Cliffside Park, said he heard the planes overhead and looked up.
''The next thing I know was they collided. They went right up. Pieces of the plane were flying all over the place,'' he said. ''I went down on my hands and knees and covered my head. I felt like it was a nightmare.''