HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — The pilot of the single-engine airplane that crashed into the woods near the Atlantic City Expressway on Friday was a 44-year-old aviation enthusiast who worked as an air traffic controller at the Atlantic City International Airport.
Anthony C. Kelly, of Washington Township, Gloucester County, was the only person who died when his Van’s RV-7A broke up and crashed in the vicinity of Columbia and Cypress avenues on Friday. Township police formally identified him Monday.
A Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson confirmed that Kelly had been an air traffic controller at Atlantic City International since May 2002.
He had previously worked at the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center from April 2000. Washington Center is one of the nation’s busiest, responsible for routing airplanes over Washington, D.C., seven states and 165,000 square miles, covering the coast from near Monmouth County to near South Carolina.
FAA registration data also showed Kelly had also been a licensed private pilot since 2006.
The year after he got his license, he crashed a Cessna 172 into a wooded area of Hamilton Township in November 2007. However, neither he nor his two passengers were seriously injured.
The crash did not scare him off.
Instead, Kelly began prolifically posting in internet aviation chatrooms, showing a growing interest in home-built aircraft. These are typically smaller, simpler airplanes, constructed by hobbyists that still must meet exacting federal flight standards.
Kelly’s own brightly colored yellow and red plane was built by an enthusiast in Oregon and certified airworthy in 2006. Kelly registered it in May 2011. He used his plane as his avatar on VansAirForce.net, a chatroom for Van’s enthusiasts, where he posted as “tkatc.”
There, he wrote that he was in the midst of building his own Vans RV-8. He also used many of his posts to explain the perspective of air-traffic controllers, who are tasked with the stressful job of directing planes near airports.
“Bavafa....when you are cleared for a visual you are expected to descend and approach the airport in a "normal" fashion. "Normal" is probably different for many pilots and for each type of aircraft,” he wrote in one post. “A visual approach is just that...you see the airport, you fly towards the airport and you then land at the airport.”
Kelly also used a GPS device to track all of his flights, posting the paths to a website he shared with others.
The posts show he traveled widely, maximizing the freedom inherent in a small airplane to travel wherever the fancy suited.
Kelly flew to Virginia in January and northern Florida the following month, his website showed. He flew to Dallas in March and eastern Long Island in April. He flew to Nova Scotia in June and South Carolina in August.
In between these longer flights, his charts show he routinely took short trips around New Jersey and nearby states.
He would linger above Cape May one day, and fly around southeastern Pennsylvania another day, while making a run up the Hudson River a week later.
The charts record that on Friday he took off from Cross Keys Airport at around 4:36 p.m., heading southeast. He was traveling about 163 mph at 6,600 feet at 4:51 p.m. when the track suddenly zigs toward the eventual crash site.
The track abruptly ended 26 seconds later.
The crash remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
As news of the crash got out, members of the online community expressed shock about Kelly as they offered condolences to his wife, Amy Kelly.
“Tony is the love of my life, my best friend, and my soul mate and I miss him terribly,” she wrote Sunday morning, using his account. “I saw the crash site today and it is awful. … Tony was a great pilot, a great man and a great husband and friend.”
A statement from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association said the group was deeply saddened by Kelly's death.
"Tony was a dedicated, professional controller, passionate about aviation, and a charismatic and influential member of his facility. He developed many friendships and made a connection with nearly everyone he came into contact with. He will be missed," the statement said.
Friends in the online community eulogized Kelly’s knowledge, experience and enthusiasm he shared for flying, even as they knew that what they enjoyed could end catastrophically.
Wrote one user, RickWoodall, “This kind of thing really makes you stop for a few. Love our hobby but don’t forget it’s a dangerous one. Fly safe all.”
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