The 40-14 trouncing by the Steelers on December 19, 1976 is likely the best loss Baltimore Colts fans ever experienced — even for an AFC divisional title game. That’s because so many fans left early, there were few people in the stands when a plane that had buzzed the stadium multiple times crashed into the upper deck about 10-minutes after the game ended.
This strange event probably fit well with the probably no longer politically-correct title often given to Memorial Stadium – “The World’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum.”
One man who couldn’t leave early was Baltimore City Police Department Officer Joe Scacco. Joe Sacco was hit by the plane and survived. He was one of three police officers injured. Sacco spent more than a month in the hospital and was retired on disability about four years later. Joe Sacco recently talked about that day with the York Daily Record.
Here are more details on the plane crash from a 20th anniversary story in The Baltimore Sun by the great sportswriter John Steadman (Steadman’s father was the deputy fire chief who Baltimore’s John F. Steadman firehouse is dedicated to).
The pilot of the Piper Cherokee was 33-year-old Donald Kroner. Kroner served three months of a two-year sentence for malicious destruction of property and violation of aviation ordinances.
Kroner had been arrested prior to the Stadium incident for making threats against former Colt Bill Pellington. This included Kroner being accused of dropping a bottle and toilet paper from his plane onto the roof of Pellington’s Timonium restaurant. According to news reports, Kroner was upset over being thrown out of the restaurant. Kroner died in 2013
Kroner had been fired as an MTA bus driver the day before the crash. He also had been a flight instructor and, according to some accounts, had worked as an air traffic controller. In 1980 Kroner was charged with stealing a Greyhound bus from Dulles International Airport.
Here’s another 1996 Baltimore Sun article by Fred Rasmussen. Ben Roth, mentioned in the article, was the father of one of my childhood friends and lived a few houses from me when I was a kid.
“He then made a low pass from the north — the open end of the horseshoe — flying just over the scoreboard and the north goal post in what might have been an attempt to land on the playing field,” The Evening Sun reported. “The plane banked and climbed, clearing the upper deck railing by a few feet, began to turn right and then fell into the chair-back seats of Section 1 of the upper deck, behind where home plate would be located for baseball.”
Ben Roth, assistant stadium manager, was supervising a ground crew placing a tarp on the field when he heard the approaching plane. He told The Sun he looked up and yelled to his crew: “Hey, get out of the way. This guy’s coming in.”
Former sportscaster Vince Bagli recalled: “I was walking down to the Colts’ dressing room and heard this rumbling sound. I thought someone had rolled a garbage can down the ramp until I looked out and saw the plane sitting upstairs.”
Inside the plane’s cockpit, police found a roll of toilet paper, a can of yellow spray enamel, a can of spray snow and a note to Colts’ quarterback Bert Jones: “To Bert Jones, QB, from Blue Max. Good luck, you B-more Colts.”
Witnesses said the plane entered the open end of the horseshoe-shaped stadium and tried to rise as it approached the closed portion.
“The plane circled the field and had gone through where the band sits (at the other end of the stadium) and then came back into the stadium,” said Yvon Tyler of Baltimore. “It tried to climb and it banked, but it couldn’t make it,”
Flying low, the white plane, with blue trim markings, stalled: “It was so scary. We couldn’t duck, we couldn’t run, we didn’t know what to do,” according to Tyler. The plane, registered as N6276J, dropped in the upper rows of the stadium’s upper most deck of seats, Sections 1 & 2, positioned with its nose pointing downward, its left wing fractured, fuel spilling out, and its right wing damaged just above the baseball press box, which was being used as an auxiliary press facility for the game
Police pulled the pilot from the wreckage dazed but seemingly unhurt. Inside the plane’s cockpit, police found a roll of toilet paper, a can of yellow spray enamel paint, a can of spray snow and a note to a Colts’ quarterback, “To Bert Jones, QB, from Blue Max. Good luck, you B-more Colts.