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Man identified who stole plane and landed at Coast Guard beach

CAPE MAY — The man who allegedly stole a single-engine plane from a Middle Township landing strip and landed it on a Coast Guard beach in the city has been identified.

Jimmy Dahlen Jr., 50, of Cape May, is a mechanic for Paramount Air Services, a banner plane company that operates up and down the New Jersey coast. His stepmother, Barbara Tomalino, president of the company, said her stepson stole the plane sometime Sunday evening.

Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Dahlen, who has not yet been located.

“This is so bizarre. It really is. ... We can’t fathom any of it,” Tomalino told the The Press of Atlantic City.

Tomalino said her stepson was working for the business Sunday and other workers said he was acting fine during his shift.

“When I saw the videos, it just really added to the questions because it’s just insane. He just seemed quite normal during the day,” Tomalino said.

Witnesses said the plane was flying low before it landed and came close to hitting homes and businesses.

Tomalino said Dahlen is a student pilot, which means he is still working on his license. She said while he’s allowed to fly planes when he is testing them, he can’t fly for commercial purposes and cannot take passengers aboard his flights.

The stolen plane was identified as a Piper PA12 aircraft, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The plane is used to fly banners over the beach.

The FAA, which is inves-tigating the incident, took the plane apart and was bringing it back to the hangar Monday.

The Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May increased security after the craft landed on its beach just before 8 p.m. Sunday. That heightened security was relaxed Monday, the Coast Guard said.

Cape May City police and Coast Guard police responded at about 8:10 p.m. Sunday. By then, the pilot had already run away from the plane.

The Coast Guard said footprints were found leading away from the plane and added there was no sign of damage to the plane. The Coast Guard also said it was not aware of the plane’s presence prior to it landing.

Samantha Haws, of Wildwood, said she and other bystanders saw the plane flying low Sunday and said it was close to hitting Wildwood homes and businesses.

“Bystanders were ducking,” Haws said. “At first I thought it was an airshow, but then once I saw it going the way it was, I thought it was going to hit the homes. It was definitely scary for several people outside.”

The Coast Guard said officers became aware of the incident when the plane was spotted on closed-circuit cameras.

Martin Pagliughi, director of the Cape May County Office of Emergency Management, said threats from the air are real, though there isn’t a textbook way to prevent something like this from happening.

Multiple agencies responded to the scene, including the Coast Guard Fire Department, Cape May city police, the Cape May County Sheriff’s K-9 Unit, Coast Guard police and Coast Guard Investigative Services.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

DALE GERHARD / Staff Photographer  

Barbara Tomalino Barbara Tomalino, owner of Paramount Air Service, said one of their banner planes was taken by a pilot without permission Sunday night.

This is when rip currents are most deadly to you

A heat wave that drives you to the shore, warm water temperature that draws you to the surf and a yellow flag “for moderate rip currents” that hints at danger, but doesn’t prevent you from swimming: These conditions can prove to be a dangerous, even deadly combination, according to research by the National Weather Service.

Most people know that rip currents, caused by breaks in the sandbar, can make swimming dangerous and require numerous lifeguard rescues during the summer.

But the National Weather Service, over the winter and spring, analyzed a number of other factors and found it is a mix of conditions that can lead to a drowning death where rip currents are a factor.

What they found was there are days when the risk of dying from rip currents in South Jersey are greater than others. It comes down to factors such as water temperature, time of day and how hot it is in Philadelphia. They are broken down into behavioral, measurable risk and demographic indicators.

“It’s what entices us to go in the water,” said Lance Franck, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.

And why was Philadelphia chosen? Because it’s the largest city in NWS Mount Holly's coverage area and far enough from the ocean that it’s not subject to cooling sea breezes.

When it gets hot in the City of Brotherly Love, people flock to the beach.

But whether they’re at the beach or not, swimmers also prefer warm water. On average, the water temperature in Atlantic City is above 60 degrees from June 1 to Oct. 15, when most people are on the beach. Water temperatures above average may further entice people to hop on in.

Between 1998 and the end of September 2017, there were 47 rip current fatalities in the NWS Mount Holly’s coverage area, which includes the Atlantic coastal counties of Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May in New Jersey, as well as Sussex County in Delaware. Of those 47, 24 deaths were in Ocean (11), Atlantic (6) and Cape May (7) counties; 2017 was the deadliest year since the NWS began counting, with eight people dying.

Franck said those incidents were the only ones they could clearly attribute to rip currents.

“There could be more,” he said.

According to the study, the most common times for rip current fatalities are when air temperatures in Philadelphia are more than 3.1 degrees above average as well as when water temperatures are above 60 degrees (with a temperature anomaly of 2.5 degrees in Atlantic City, which was used as the focal point for the research).

Finally, when the rip current risk is moderate, as opposed, to high, they found the highest amount of rip current fatalities.

That may or may not be surprising, but as Franck pointed out, fewer people actually are swimming when the risk of rip currents are high — and the flags are red.

However, for a moderate risk of rip currents, associated with a yellow flag, shore beach patrols, “may have swimming restrictions, but may not also,” Franck said.

Randy Townsend, lifeguard captain for Harvey Cedars, backs up that assessment, although he believes most risks can be avoided if swimmers heed lifeguard warnings.

“The general public ... are very aware of the risks associated with these circumstances. However, you do have individuals who do not pay attention to the warnings and often wind up in a life-threatening situation,” he said.

The NWS research found other factors, including wave heights, the interval at which the waves pass, and wind direction are all factors.

Among their finds, rip currents presented the greatest threat when:

Waves were at least 2 feet high.

Wave intervals measured at the buoys, was 8 seconds or slower.

Winds were perpendicular to the land.

Franck said that the longer the wave period, “the greater the impact, because the waves have more strength to them.”

In addition, tropical systems, even if they are hundreds of miles away, can lead to longer periods swells and additional periods, which will also raise the rip current risk, Franck noted.

The data show swimming at a guarded beach is, in fact, the best way to avoid being overwhelmed by a rip current.

“The majority of fatalities occur at unguarded beaches,” Franck said.

A male (85 percent) between the ages of 12 to 34 (68 percent) had the highest risk factor. In addition, 62 percent of deaths were between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., which is after hours for many beach patrols.

Townsend said Harvey Cedars has taken these factors into account.

“Our agency has an after-hours program every day of the 11-week (third week in June to Labor Day Weekend) summer season. We have mobile units on patrol from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to assist the public with whatever they may need.”

To help beach patrols, the NWS this year began holding conference calls with lifeguard chiefs and captains up and down the Jersey Shore and on Delaware beaches.

This ‘boots on the ground’ method of listening and sharing ideas holds promise to save even more lives. Townsend said having direct access to the National Weather Service and its information is exciting news.

“Hopefully, this program takes hold and grows,” Townsend said.

Bridgeton rallies for Families Belong Together cause

BRIDGETON — Angered by the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy and families getting separated at the country’s border, protesters are gathering nationally Saturday with one march in Cumberland County.

Dozens of people with signs are outside of the courthouse in the city. The city is the site of one of the only rallies in South Jersey.

“This is a moral outrage and we need to be there to let people know,” said Catharine Rabbai, a commissioner on the Cumberland County Human Relations Commission helping to organize the rally in Bridgeton. “We need to talk for our brothers and sisters, for our humans on this planet.”

Bridgeton’s rally is one of hundreds scheduled across the country as part of the nationwide effort called “Families Belong Together.”

The protests are an effort by national groups such as MoveOn Civic Action, the ACLU, the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Leadership Conference against the administration’s immigration policies and family separation.

Rabbai, also a Hopewell Township resident in Cumberland County, said she’s hoping for “anyone who feels brave enough to show up” to attend the Bridgeton rally. Organizers expect about 50 people to attend, including city officials.

“Down here we have many migrants,” Rabbai said. “We have many Mexican families that have come here and settled, and they do a tremendous amount of work and have boosted our economy.”

The local rally slated for 10 a.m. at the Cumberland County Courthouse at 60 W. Broad St.

It’s one of 16 taking place across this state. Other sites include Asbury Park, Bedminster, Clifton, Edison, Englewood, Flemington, Glen Ridge, Glen Rock, Lambertville, New Brunswick, Newark, Princeton, Red Bank, Rutherford and Toms River.

Thousands also are expected to head to Washington, D.C., to attend the Family Separation protest at the White House on Saturday, according to social media events about the protest.

The Trump administration this month scaled back a key element of its zero-tolerance immigration policy amid uproar over the separation of more than 2,300 migrant families, halting the practice of turning over parents to prosecutors for charges of illegally entering the country.

President Donald Trump’s order required a temporary halt to prosecuting parents and guardians unless they had criminal history or the child’s welfare was in question. He insisted the White House’s zero tolerance policy toward illegal entry remained intact.

Meghan Hurley, communications coordinator at CATA, The Farmworker Support Committee that works for immigrant community rights, said nothing the administration has done is “near acceptable” to what would be fair and just for immigrants.

CATA has an office in Bridgeton, and the members were invited to attend the rally. Hurley said the goal is to reunite every family that’s been separated and to advocate for a more permanent policy.

They “want to see good change and fair change,” she said.

“We’re hoping to spread the word,” she said. “There are a lot of people who support them and are behind them.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Hard Rock, Ocean Resort welcome VIPs for 'soft play'

ATLANTIC CITY — The days leading up to the official grand openings of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and Ocean Resort Casino are intended to give the properties an opportunity to fine-tune details and put finishing touches on the multimillion dollar projects.

Tuesday was the second “soft play” day for the casinos, which is similar to a low-key opening of a new restaurant when friends and family dine before the public gets a chance so the kitchen and serving staff can perfect their duties. In the casinos, the days give state regulators a chance to inspect gaming operations and ensure compliance with the Casino Control Act.

Some visitors staying inside the hotels gave mixed reviews as the countdown clock ticked away toward Thursday.

Tate Dixon, of Okeechobee, Florida, traveled with his girlfriend, who was an invited guest and member of the Seminole tribe, to Atlantic City for the first time. Staying inside the renovated Hard Rock — the company spent more than $500 million upgrading the former Trump Taj Mahal — Dixon was disappointed in his room, which lacked air conditioning Monday evening. He said the couple was getting a new room Tuesday.

“It looks great (inside),” Dixon said. “It’s way bigger (than the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida) and everything’s brand new.”

When asked if he would make a return trip to Atlantic City in the future to stay at Hard Rock, Dixon quickly replied, “Absolutely.”

Kristyn Greenstein, niece of Ocean Resort CFO Alan Greenstein, stayed Monday night with her two daughters, Abby, 12, and Bella,14, Caruso. The trio ate dinner at American Cut, and Greenstein said “it was the best steak I ever had.” Coming from Forked River, Greenstein said she had visited the casino hotel when it was Revel but she was excited by the new changes.

“There’s so much to do inside,” she said Tuesday on the Boardwalk, listing off retail shops, restaurants, amenities and the Exhale Spa. “You could never imagine all this in one place.”

Just across the Boardwalk from where Dixon was sitting, crews were painting the steps at Hard Rock. On the other side of the property, on Pacific Avenue, construction workers were feverishly trying to get the Rocktane gas and convenience store completed, but a worker at the site said they were still a few days off. The final touches also were being completed on the sand, where employees at the Hard Rock Beach Bar were stocking liquor bottles, prepping cabanas and sweeping the boards.

Matt Harkness, property president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, said the soft play days were “two very important days.” Harkness, who has prior experience with casino openings as a key part of the Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, said preparations for Thursday have been going on for months.

“Things are really in good shape,” Harkness said Monday. “We’re really looking forward to the grand opening. ... It’s just going to be an incredible week.”

Outside Ocean Resort, electricians installed wiring Tuesday afternoon on the new set of Boardwalk steps that replaced the “prison wall” — as owner Bruce Deifik referred to it during his casino license hearing last week — left by the former Revel Casino Hotel. Removing the wall, installing glass safety barriers on the escalators and refurbishing nearly all of the property’s 1,399 available hotel rooms are all part of the nearly $35 million in upgrades Deifik made to the $2.4 billion hotel he purchased in January.

Ashley Polo, vice president of brand marketing and communications, said Ocean Resort is focused on “putting the finishing touches on several areas of the resort.”

“This includes loading inventory, installing some signage and holding mock dinner service with internal guests,” Polo said. “The entire team at Ocean Resort Casino is committed to delivering each and every guest an exceptional experience, and we are excited to be able to do so later this week.”

Hard Rock will smash guitars for its grand opening festivities at 11 a.m. Ocean Resort will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 1 p.m.