A record-setting crowd packed the city’s beaches to watch the Atlantic City Airshow-Thunder Over the Boardwalk — with an estimated 800,000 people filling the city and other towns along Absecon Island.
Perfect weather — sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-80s — contributed.
The resort’s beaches filled up quickly Wednesday as spectators began arriving well before 8 a.m.
Atlantic City Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Foley and Atlantic City Police Department Sgt. Monica McMenamin confirmed the crowd record Wednesday afternoon. The previous mark of 750,000 was set in 2009.
“It’s absolutely fantastic that we were able to get this many people out here,” Foley said. “The show went off without any major problems.”
Crowds converged at the center of town, and prime beach real estate disappeared early. Those who wanted to be in the center, where they could hear the official airshow announcers, decided to camp on ramps leading to the beaches, some with umbrellas to help shield themselves from the hot sun. Beach spots were easier to find north of Bally’s Atlantic City and south of the Tropicana Casino and Resort.
About 1,500 boats lined the ocean a few hundred yards from the beach along the whole island, stretching up to Brigantine and down to Ventnor. On the Boardwalk, thousands of people stood along rails, and parts of the Boardwalk were so crowded it appeared as though people were walking shoulder to shoulder.
People took advantage of the ocean, with adults jumping in occasionally to cool down from the sun, while children bodysurfed and watched a Marine-driven V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft — and an array of other aircraft — hover above them.
The show began 10:30 a.m., as expected, and went on largely without incident aside from a landing problem for the Canadian SkyHawks parachute team.
Thirteen of the 15 team members landed in the designated drop zone on a patch of beach at Florida Avenue and the Boardwalk. Two SkyHawks, however, were forced to land in an emergency zone on the opposite side of the Boardwalk. No one was hurt, said airshow organizer David Schultz.
“Everything went off as planned and we stayed on course for all 62 (performers) over the five-and-a-half hours,” Schultz said.
McMenamin said reports of missing children on the Boardwalk came in throughout the day, but all parties were reunited.
Parking lots — some charging as much as $40 — were packed early, particularly the casino lots and the private lots near Boardwalk Hall.
Early airshow favorites included the Geico Skytypers, the Heavy Metal Jet Team — making its debut appearance at the show — and Jim Beasley Jr.’s World War II-era Spitfire demonstration.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, however, earned their headlining status, appearing at 3 p.m. for a 45-minute show to much applause. Some spectators winced or ducked as the team of F-16s darted by at up to 700 mph. No one seemed to leave early to beat the traffic.
Organizers have said the show is a great way to showcase what the city has to offer, particularly because a number of improvements have been made since the development of the state-run Tourism District.
Landscaping improvements have been made along the Boardwalk, and additional cleanup efforts have taken place.
David Dami, of Harleysville, Pa., was one of the visitors who took notice. He came to the airshow for the first time with his family Wednesday and could not recall the last time he was in Atlantic City.
“We usually do the Ocean City or Sea Isle thing,” he said. “It’s great out here today. It just looks beautiful.”
Dami came to primarily take photos. He learned about the show online from the Delaware Valley Photo Friends.
“There’s a perception that you can’t come to Atlantic City and expect to go very far from the Boardwalk. Today, at least, the police presence here, the safety factor, it makes me feel comfortable being here with my family,” he said.
A largest-ever crowd also meant record-breaking midweek business for some local shops and restaurants.
Parents and children flocked Wednesday afternoon to IT’SUGAR, a candy store located in The Pier Shops at Caesars. Nerds, candy necklaces and Hershey’s chocolate bars were big sellers, workers said.
“It’s a much, much nicer day than last year. We’re doing great,” store supervisor Katelyn Cooper said. “People are coming in and filling bags for their kids to take back to the beach.”
Nearby, tables across the boards at the Boardwalk Beer Garden at Caesars Atlantic City began filling up. The restaurant and bar opened at 10 a.m. — an hour early to accommodate show crowds.
“You’ve got people here interested in starting the day off right — with a cold beverage,” said Tim Baker, manager of the Beer Garden. “There’s even a guy at a table down there with his binoculars.”
At the Rainforest Cafe, visitors faced an hour-and-45-minute wait for a table at 3 p.m. The restaurant began taking reservations for its outdoor patio and indoor seating a week in advance, general manager Mike Stirm said.
“It’s airshow Wednesday. It’s about as busy as it gets here,” he said.
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