Terry Rush, long a pilot of World War II aircraft, was critically burned after one wing of the TBM Avenger he was flying burst into flames during takeoff at the Millville (NJ) Municipal Airport (KMIV), Saturday evening, March 7. Rush made a dramatic emergency landing and escape, but the TBM was destroyed by the fire.
Rush was in critical but stable condition Sunday at Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, Penna., according to news reports in the Press of Atlantic City. His injuries, while serious, did not appear to be life-threatening according to those reports.
Rush had just taken off from runway 28 and was beginning to enter the pattern when he realized his left wing was ablaze, police said. He turned the plane and landed on a small patch of grass. Escaping from the cockpit, he dropped onto the wing and rolled to the ground. The plane, by then fully engulfed in flames, was still moving and slowly rolled onto the runway, police said. It came to a stop on the runway. Rush was alert and talking when he was found, they said.
Rush suffered second- and third-degree burns on his chest and both hands. He was taken by medical helicopter to Cooper University Hospital in Camden and then transferred to Crozer-Chester, which specializes in burn cases. Nobody on the ground was injured.
The Grumman-designed, Eastern Aircraft-built TBM-3E torpedo bomber is one of the warbirds in the collection of Thomas Duffy, who is on the board of directors for the Millville Army Air Field Museum. He was at the airport and was the first rescuer to reach Rush. He owns several World War II aircraft, including a rare P-47 Thunderbolt. Duffy said that Rush is a good friend and the only person, other than Duffy himself, who flies and works on his airplanes. He said that Rush is a retired Delta Airlines captain.
Lisa Jester, the museum’s executive director, said Rush maintains Duffy’s historic planes and flies them regularly. As of Sunday night, she said, Rush was still heavily sedated. All of Duffy’s airplanes are in mint condition, she added.
Rush’s long aviation experience and quick action probably saved his life, Jester said. “Things like this happen, unfortunately. They’re freak accidents. Terry is an expert. He was able to land it on the runway and avoid crashing into anything else. It could have been a lot worse than it was.”
James Salmon, spokesman for the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which owns the airport, said that 27 firefighters from Millville, Laurel Lake and Cedarville put out the blaze. The plane’s remains were taken to Bianco Brothers Garage in Bridgeton, NJ, where the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will oversee an investigation of the incident.