Residents, Left Homeless by Crash, Search Rubble for Belongings
SMYRNA, Ga. (AP) _ Residents salvaged what they could from the rubble of an apartment complex engulfed in flames by the crash of a Navy jet, and a pregnant woman injured in the crash died, raising the death count to two.
About 30 people left homeless by the accident returned Friday to save what belongings they could among scorched furniture, appliances and bedsprings, as friends and spectators milled around outside the complex.
Vans filled with residents, evacuated after the jet slammed into the buildings late Thursday, were allowed to enter the apartments to retrieve personal items.
A nearby motel was offering free lodging for those left homeless.
Thomas Andrews, 34, said he and his wife would be forced to start over.
″It’s leveled,″ he said. ″It looks like somebody dropped a nuclear bomb on it. I guess we’ll have to rebuild, but there are things we can’t recover.″
One body was found in the kitchen of an apartment early Friday. Cobb County Medical Examiner Joseph Burton withheld the man’s identity. Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon said the apartment was incinerated in the fire.
Smyrna City Administrator John Patterson said authorities doubt any other victims will be found inside the demolished apartments.
Lt. Cmdr. Robert M. Conlyn Jr., the only person aboard the A-7E Corsair II attack plane, was reported in critical condition Friday.
The pregnant woman, 28-year-old Margie Padovani, died of severe burns at Grady Memorial Hospital.
Her 5-year-old daughter, Jacquelyn, was in critical condition with burns over about half of her body, said hospital spokesman Jim Driscoll.
A third resident of the apartments was treated for cracked ribs, and officials said a military rescue worker broke an ankle.
Reporters taken on a tour of the apartment complex Friday were shown an aircraft part that was driven six feet into the ground by the jet’s explosion.
Fonda Paulsen, 21, was among those who arrived early in the day anxiously awaiting permission from authorities to return to her apartment. She filled only two laundry baskets before she broke into tears and left in her car.
The Pine Village Apartment Complex had 76 units, of which 44 were unaffected by the crash. Of the 12 destroyed and 20 damaged, three were vacant at the time of the accident, said Kathie Barton, Smyrna’s director of community relations.
Mary White, 31, found her soot-filled apartment intact, but said she planned to move anyway.
″You can hear the planes on the weekend, they were really loud, but you never think about them coming down,″ she said.
The jet struck the edge of a building before smashing into a car and coming to rest by a chain-link fence about 30 yards away, said Smyrna police officer Frank Durrance.
″It’s completely burned. It’s just a big piece of metal ... The car was completely burned. You could tell it was a car, but you can’t tell that it was a plane,″ Durrance said.
The unarmed fighter crashed 2.5 miles short of the runway at Dobbins Air Force Base, 15 miles north of Atlanta, where Conlyn attempted to land while on a navigational training mission, the Navy said.
Conlyn, a Navy reserve officer who works as a co-pilot for Delta Airlines, suffered a skull fracture when his ejection seat slammed into a street near the apartment complex.
Capt. Peter Hunt, commander of the Naval Air Station, said the Navy lacked leads to the crash’s cause, but added that the pilot hadn’t reported any trouble to flight controllers.
″Whatever happened, happened suddenly,″ Hunt said.