Pilot, 23, killed in Cape crash was flying Banner plane | Local News

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — A young pilot was on his way to pick up an advertising banner when his plane crashed on Saturday, according to an airline advertising staff member.

Thomas Gibson, 23, of Ocean City, was pronounced dead at the scene after his Piper PA-12 crashed shortly after takeoff from a private airfield in the Green Creek section of the township.

The crash happened around 9:35 a.m. Gibson was the only person on the plane, officials said.

Cape May Aerial Advertising office manager Mary Ellen Kelly said Gibson started working for the company this summer and was on his way to pick up a banner when the accident happened. She said any further details should come from the federal aviation authorities.

Eva Lee Ngai of the Federal Aviation Administration’s communications office said the National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation and any updates will come from that agency.

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A preliminary investigation indicates the pilot had taken off and, as is standard procedure, turned around to pick up the banner, according to Peter Knudson, an NTSB spokesman. The pilot missed the banner on the first pass, Knudson said Tuesday, and had started to climb for a second pass when the plane veered to one side, lost altitude and crashed.

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Investigators are gathering facts about the crash for a preliminary report to be released in the coming weeks, Knudson said. Finding the cause of the crash will be part of the next phase of the investigation.

The plane’s registration number indicated that it belonged to Paramount Air Service, which has flown banner-ad planes in Cape May County for generations. The company was started by two World War II veterans, including André Tomalino, who had been a glider pilot during the war.

Former owner Barbara Tomalino, the founder’s daughter who had run the business since 1985, said she sold the planes, equipment and goods to the new Cape May Aerial Advertising company.

She still owns the name, she said.

“I didn’t sell Paramount. What I sold were the assets,” she said. Jeromie Hunter, owner of Cape May Aerial Ads, is a former Paramount pilot who moved to the Washington state area to run the business. She said he knew she was planning to retire.

Tomalino declined to disclose the purchase price.


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Contacted on Tuesday, she described Saturday’s accident as a tragedy and said she was always worried about the pilots who worked in the company.

“You worry about these kids,” she said. There had been accidents while she and her family ran the business, but she said there were no fatalities. “We have been blessed.”

Kelly said the new owners operated the airline service from last summer and the sale was finalized in April this year.

Gibson was from Medford Lakes, Burlington County, and attended Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, according to his Facebook page. In addition to working as a pilot, he worked in the family business, Gibson Electrical. He played lacrosse at Shawnee High School.

Middle Township Police announced the crash on Saturday. Multiple emergency vehicles from multiple agencies responded to the crash, including Green Creek and Rio Grande Fire Departments, and the Cape May County District Attorney’s Office.

Police Lt. Tracey Super said Tuesday the crash was under federal investigation and local police could provide no further information.

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The Piper PA-12 was produced in the 1940s after World War II. It was designed as a three-seater aircraft.

There have been three fatal crashes recently involving Piper PA-12 Super Cruiser planes, according to the Aviation Safety Network, which maintains a database of plane crashes. On May 24, a pilot died of injuries sustained in a crash near Seagraves, Texas, and on May 28, a pilot died in a banner plane crash in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina , as he apparently attempted to pick up a banner.

According to a 2003 FAA report, most accidents involving banner aircraft occur under one of three circumstances: maneuvering to pick up the banner, entangled or twisted banner tow lines, or due to loss of engine power.

Last year, a teenage pilot working for Paramount Air Service made national headlines when he safely landed his struggling Banner plane on the bridge between Ocean City and Somers Point, finding a gap in the summer traffic to settle on June 19.

Landon Lucas, 18 at the time, was not injured. He told authorities that his plane had engine problems and that he tried to fly to Ocean City Airport after dropping the banner.

In April, Lucas was a passenger on a small plane that crashed in New Mexico. He later told reporters he was seriously injured in the crash. The pilot was killed.


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Banner planes have been commonplace every summer along Jersey’s beaches and have been for decades.

There have been several plane crashes involving Banner planes in southern New Jersey, including some in which the plane ended up in the ocean. In several incidents, the pilots escaped without serious injuries.

In 2012, a Paramount Banner plane crashed into a tree in Middle Township, and in 2015, a Banner plane crashed into the swamp near Delaware Bay near Reeds Beach, with the plane flipping over . The pilot survived in each case.

In July 2008, another Banner plane ran out of fuel and crashed into a fence in the backyard of a Middle Township motel.

In Ocean City, a Paramount plane crashed into the swamp near 51st Street in 2010. The pilot was also not seriously injured in this incident.

Contact Bill Barlow:

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