Norma and Charles G. Mills Jr. left their home in Baltimore about a week ago for a vacation in the Bahamas that was "kind of like a honeymoon for them," one of their friends said yesterday.
Early yesterday their trip ended in tragedy. Mrs. Mills, a 37-year-old welding company vice president, was killed when the single-engine plane her husband was piloting crashed into a municipal baseball field in Alexandria after running out of gas.
Mills, 44, president of the C. George Mills and Sons mechanical contracting firm in Baltimore, was listed in critical condition at Alexandria Hospital last night.
The Mills were married last year. Six months ago, two of Mills' children from a previous marriage were killed in separate car accidents within six-days, friends and relatives said.
Nills' parents, Gertrude and Charles G. Mills Sr., were at the Alexandria Hospital yesterday. The said their son's injuries included face and head lacerations, and his right leg, collar bone, shoulder bone, and some of his ribs are broken.
A nurse told him, "You're as bad off as you can be and still be alive," Mrs. Mills reported.
Mills' parents said their son, who was in "terrible pain," kept mumbling, "That damned gas gauge," indicating that there was something wrong with the gas gauge in his Piper Cherokee single-engine plane.
"He should have had enough gas to get twice as far as he did," Mills' father said.
Jack Lipscomb, an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said Mills radioed the National Airport control tower at about 12:30 a.m. yesterday that he was low on fuel when he was about five miles from where the plane eventually crashed. He radioed shortly thereafter that he had run out of fuel and would not make the airport, Lipscomb said.
Lipscomb said Mills had left Cat Island in the Bahamas at 8:50 a.m. Wednesday and stopped to refuel in Nassau and Brunswick, Ga. on his way to Baltimore. He said the plane apparently had full fuel tanks when it left Georgia. The possibility that the tanks had a leak is one of the things under investigation, he said.
The safety board is condinuing its investigation, Lipscomba said.
The airplane struck a light tower over the baseball field, located in the 400 block of Duncan Avenue in Alexandria, bounced into a grassy area, landed on its side and overturned. Fire officials called to the scene said there was no fire.
Mills' parents said their son got his pilot's license when he was 17. "He hasn't stopped flying since," his mother added.
Mrs. Mills was vice president of Barras and Watson, Inc., a compressed gas and welding supply distribution firm in Baltimore. Mary Maloney, a computer operator at the firm, described has as "bubbly, full of life."
Mrs. Mills, called Sam by friends and relatives, was brought into the firm as an office manager four years ago and worked her way up to vice president two years ago, Maloney said. She has one child from a previous marriage.
Maloney said Mrs. Mills "was the company. She made many of the major decisions, and had her hand in every part of the company. She was some lady, and she's going to be missed."
Yesterday's airplane crash was the second in Northern Virginia in the past 14 days. On April 28, a small corporate jet crashed into a McLean subdivision, destroying one home and damaging another.The four occupants of that plane were killed.