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United States’ Julie Ertz reacts after losing 0-3 against Sweden at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Tokyo. Sweden won 3-0.

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Here's what was going through the teen pilot's head as he landed his banner plane on the Ocean City bridge

Landon Lucas, 18, stood next to the 1946 airplane that had failed him two days earlier, leading to his unlikely and eye-popping landing on the Route 52 causeway between Ocean City and Somers Point. He took a sip of water and shrugged.

“Being scared does nothing,” Lucas said with the nonchalance of a teenager, or maybe that of a pilot trained for the unexpected, or of a Jackson Hole, Wyoming, native used to flying in mountains. “It was either water or bridge. There was a gap in traffic, and I went in. I just did a 90-degree turn, and put it on.”

“It was my only option,” he said Wednesday. “You look left, you look right. There was really only one spot to put it in. One good spot.”

At the moment of landing, alone in his plane, having avoided light poles and any other cars, he said, he shouted out a satisfied expletive “at the top of my lungs.” He smiled at the memory.

“It wasn’t the smoothest of my career,” he said. “It was smooth enough.”

His landing on the lanes leading out of Ocean City led to hours of rubber-necking on the bridge Monday, and a two-car accident on the eastbound side. But Landon was uninjured, and the plane suffered “not even a scratch,” he said.

“If I had put it in the water, it’d be junk,” Lucas said. “I probably would have had a black eye.”

In fact, the Piper J3 aircraft made of aluminum and steel, covered in a heat-shrunk Dacron, will be repaired and flown again, said mechanic Joe McSherry, “probably next week.” The specific issue was a broken weld in an airbox.

“It’s only missing a few key components,” Lucas joked.

For now, the 900-pound plane sits in the hangar at the tiny Paramount Airport, located on a field on Smoke Road in Cape May Court House, along with the other planes flown by the Paramount banner plane service.

With the Federal Aviation Administration investigators gone, Lucas and the company’s other pilots were preparing to go up again Wednesday for another run of aerial advertising.

Lucas, who has an associate’s degree in aviation from Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming, said the trouble began over Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, “when the engine rolled back to idle out of nowhere.”

It had already been a rough morning, he said.

“It was windy, bumpy, you had updrafts in the water, the winds were coming through the casinos,” he said. “You had turbulence there. It wasn’t a pleasant day in Atlantic City.”

He decided to head for the Ocean City Municipal Airfield at 25th Street and the bay, “the nearest actual airport.” He bypassed Bader Field, the old municipal airport just outside Atlantic City, because “I still had marginal engine power, enough to sustain altitude.

“I thought if I at least had that I would aim for the airport,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to aim for the airport and actually take off again than to land in an abandoned airport or a highway. The intention was not to land in a bridge in the first place.”

His decision, he said, came within 30 seconds of the engine completely failing.

“I was shooting straight in to the approach in Ocean City,” he recalled. “The engine completely failed. I wasn’t going to make the airport, and I landed on the bridge.”

“At that point in time, I saw a gap in traffic,” he said.

The width of the westbound lanes, barrier to barrier, is 39 feet. The wingspan of the tiny plane is 35 feet, McSherry said.

Lucas played down the daring of the landing.

“I was trained,” he said. “I knew how to do it. I attempted Ocean City and didn’t make it. What’s going to kill you is getting scared.”

The biggest challenge was avoiding the lights, he said. “If the lights weren’t there there would be no challenge,” he said.

“Parts break. Parts move. There’s a lot of vibration. There’s a lot of stress on the parts. A ton of wind. You’re sitting over the ocean. You’re at risk for rust, all that kind of thing. You’re over salt water. All the time. things break, you have to be prepared for when that happens.”

His mom, Lucas said, is “more freaked about it than I am.”

“Just another day at work, not an ideal one,” he said. “That’s how you make your money. I’m trained to be a pilot. Flying a plane that runs is not that hard. It’s when they stop running.”

Shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday, Lucas took off in another plane and circled back to pick up a new banner, for a Cape May golf course, to fly over Wildwood. As he watched Lucas back in the air, McSherry noted that most veteran airline pilots want nothing to do with the intricacies of banner plane flying.

Back at the office, McSherry and the others chuckled at the feat of the big kid from Wyoming, who showed up to work in New Jersey with his pickup truck, his red motorcycle in the back.

“He nailed it,” McSherry said.

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Sea Isle City event teaches kids with epilepsy to surf

SEA ISLE CITY — Before Wednesday, Reagan Schenkel had never tried to surf.

That fact was far from obvious as she cruised along on a wave at the 37th Street beach, one of about 25 kids being introduced to the sport.

“It’s really fun,” the 15-year-old from Flemington, Hunterdon County, said after her mom, Donna, managed to coax her in from the waves for a minute. While she was focused on catching some rides, her mother took photos from the beach.

Doctors diagnosed Reagan with epilepsy about two years ago, her mother said. She was not worried about her daughter hitting the waves. She said her daughter practices gymnastics and is very active.

Plus, there was a lot of support on hand.

A group of organizations and local businesses organized a day of surfing and lessons for young people with epilepsy. A doctor and nurse were on the beach, wearing white coats and no shoes. Most of the participants had never tried to surf before, and most had two instructors with them in the waves.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder and can lead to unpredictable seizures. These may range from the person staring into space to dramatic muscle spasms throughout the body.

Some of the participating children’s symptoms were not under control, according to organizers. That’s why there were medical professionals and volunteers trained in seizure first aid on hand throughout the event.

“It’s a fun day at the beach for these kids and their families,” said Colleen Quinn, of Maple Shade, Burlington County.

It’s been about two years since Quinn’s son, Paul, was diagnosed with epilepsy. Since then, she formed Paul’s Purple Warriors, promoting epilepsy education, including advocating for seizure first aid information to be posted in schools and businesses.

Paul took a turn in the waves, and was considering another try.

“It was pretty cool. I only got to stand up once,” he said.

Epilepsy Services of New Jersey worked with Heritage Surf & Sport, Ludlam Board Riders and other groups to present the event, dubbed “Seize the Wave.” Lessons began on the beach and then moved into the ocean.

“We want to make sure that they know that someone diagnosed with epilepsy can do anything anyone else can do,” said Liza Gundell, CEO of Epilepsy Services of New Jersey, a nonprofit. According to the group, at least 3.4 million people in the United States live with seizures, including 470,000 children.

Not all of the participants had epilepsy. Lucas Flores, of Maple Shade, a friend of Paul Quinn’s, came out both to support his friend and to try the waves. His instructor, however, has been diagnosed with epilepsy.

Nick Ceccoli, of Wildwood Crest, has been surfing for much of his life, learning on a south-end break in Ocean City when he was about 3. His sister has epilepsy, he said, but he did not know he did until he had his first seizure, an event he described as terrifying.

It happened not long ago, after he turned 26.

“It’s crazy,” he said. He’s had other seizures since then.

Ceccoli still surfs regularly, but he has made changes.

“I used to be big on surfing alone,” he said. Now, he only goes with friends. He also makes sure he is properly hydrated, eats well and takes breaks to avoid exhaustion. Making sure he got enough rest did not used to be a priority, he said.

Ceccoli’s diagnosis made his participation in the Wednesday event more meaningful.

“It’s so special to me to be able to help out with this,” he said.

The waves on Wednesday were almost perfect for lessons, said Brian Heritage, president of the Sea Isle City Chamber of Commerce and owner of Heritage Surf & Sport.

“They’re about 1 to 2 feet and clean,” he said. Heritage said representatives of Epilepsy Services of New Jersey reached out about organizing the event.

“I said, ‘Sure. We do stuff like that all the time,’” he said. The business provided the boards and the surf instructors, while the organization put together the medical volunteers and other logistics. Mrs. Brizzle’s Deli in Sea Isle City provided lunch.

“Sea Isle always pitches in with something like this,” Heritage said.

Colleen Quinn said this is the first year for the event, but plans are to do something similar every year.

GALLERY: Sea Isle City surfing event for kids diagnosed with epilepsy

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Wildfire smoke chokes South Jersey's sky, brings uptick in hospital visits

A thick haze continued to darken the sky Wednesday, as smoke from wildfires in central Canada and the Pacific Northwest continued to blow into the mid-Atlantic.

While most of the smoke sat thousands of feet above the surface, transported by the jet stream, some of it managed to reach the ground, lowering visibility.

jmartucci-pressofac / AirNow.Gov 

Air quality at weather sensors in and around New Jersey Wednesday morning. All orange labels indicate unhealthy air for sensitive groups, while yellow is the less harmful moderate stage. 

At Atlantic City International Airport, the visibility dropped below the usual clear sky, 10-mile reading after 6 p.m. Monday, staying below 10 miles through Wednesday. Visibility dropped as low as 3 miles on an otherwise clear Wednesday from 6 to 7 a.m., and most of the time the automated weather sensor reported haze. Millville Municipal Airport was nearly the same.

Skies are expected to clear Thursday morning, as a cold front sweeps through the Northeast and rolls off the coast, carrying all the soot and haze from the wildfires with it.

Still, the smoke has impacted air quality and has even driven some to their doctors.

“We are seeing more and more people complain about their breathing or are receiving symptoms that are concerning for them,” said Amit Borah, interventional pulmonologist at AtlantiCare’s Lung Nodule Clinic. “These are people that are not susceptible to the heat (and the breathing problems associated with it) that are coming in. ... It’s concerning. These are people who do not have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that are having problems. Some individuals are starting new medication because heat or smoke triggered asthma.”

For the most part, surface air quality has been OK in southeastern New Jersey. Since the smoke moved in Monday, the air quality index has mostly been moderate at official sensors in Absecon and Millville, with a reading between 51 and 100, meaning it’s only a problem for a select few who are unusually sensitive to smoke. The only exception was for a few hours Tuesday afternoon in Absecon, which had an air quality index in the low 100s, in the unhealthy for sensitive groups category. The AQI runs from 0 to 500 for five different particle pollutants.

However, other parts of the state did not fare as well. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued air quality alerts Tuesday and Wednesday, mainly along the New Jersey Turnpike corridor. In New Brunswick, the AQI was unhealthy, with readouts between 151 and 200. Toms River even reached the unhealthy stage for a few hours Tuesday.

Borah said he has been seeing patients from the Philadelphia region and the northern part of the state in recent days. About half of the patients are calling in, complaining about the poor air quality’s impact on their breathing. It’s not just those very sensitive to air pollution, either. Borah said he is seeing people in their 40s with small tumors in their lungs — those who shouldn’t have breathing problems — having issues.

Smoke in the Northeast comes from a combination of the Bootleg Fire in Oregon and wildfires in central Canada. As of midday Wednesday, the Bootleg Fire has burned more than 394,000 acres, or 614 square miles. The fire started July 6 due to a lightning strike, according to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

“Getting out of the open environment is key. Getting into a controlled environment is helpful,” Borah said.

Ocean City's Night in Venice boat parade, shown in 2016, kicks off Saturday night at 6 p.m. along the back bays.

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Atlantic City Board of Education subpoenaed in child porn case

ATLANTIC CITY — Board of Education member John Devlin said Wednesday the board has received a grand jury subpoena from the official corruption unit of the State Police regarding the child pornography case involving substitute teacher Kayan Frazier.

In an interview following his appearance on the Harry Hurley radio show, in which he first discussed the subpoena, Devlin said board members were informed of it at the board’s Tuesday night meeting.

That was more than a month after the subpoena was received by the district, Devlin said.

“The superintendent (Barry Caldwell) said they are asking for Kayan Frazier records,” Devlin said. “This happened a month ago. Why didn’t you (Caldwell) tell us? There is no transparency, no communication.”

Frazier, 28, of Somers Point, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court after pleading guilty in February to one count of child exploitation involving sexual abuse and child pornography. Frazier admitted to abusing a boy he met at the Pennsylvania Avenue School in Atlantic City. The boy’s mother has sued the district and various individuals on the boy’s behalf.

Board President Shay Steele said Devlin had made public something that was discussed in executive session, and called his actions unethical and unprofessional.

“I’m not going to confirm nor deny, I can say there was a little hyperbolic tone from Mr. Devlin regarding the information requested from us,” Steele said. “All I can say is that myself and other board members didn’t feel any type of concern. Not one bit.”

Superintendent Barry Caldwell said the board has hired a law firm to investigate the district’s hiring and firing of Frazier.

“There has been no wrongdoing by the Atlantic City School District with respect to the Kayan Frazier matter,” Caldwell said. “It’s disappointing when board members go out and disparage the school district in that way.”

Frazier is a cousin of Mayor Marty Small Sr.’s wife, La’Quetta Small, who was the principal of the Pennsylvania Avenue School when Frazier was a substitute teacher there.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Steele said he also decided to stop the process for hiring another independent company to do a nationwide search for a new superintendent.

“We spent $25,000 on a superintendent search that came under scrutiny because members on the search committee have litigation issues about membership on the board,” Steele said.

Board member Farook Hossain is involved in litigation over whether he actually lives in Atlantic City, and other matters.

“We had some community complaints about spending more money,” Steele said.

He said board attorney Tracy Riley told him the board does not have to use an independent, paid consultant to find a new superintendent.

“As board president, I can select a committee to handle the search,” Steel said. He said the committee will be made up of three members of the board who are not conflicted because of having close relatives employed by the district, as well as members of the community he will appoint.

The 10-member board has five conflicted members with close family employed by the district. They are Steele, Vice President Patricia Bailey, Ruth Byard, Walter Johnson and Albert Herbert.

“They seem as though they have a candidate in mind. They want to handpick (the new superintendent),” Devlin said of the decision not to use a search company. “Now the search will be in-house. It’s a bad idea — we should bring somebody neutral in to do an independent search.”

“It’s dangerous because we’re walking a thin line of what’s right and what’s wrong,” Devlin said of having conflicted board members stop the independent search process.

During his radio interview Tuesday, Hurley suggested to Devlin some board members may want to hire La’Quetta Small as superintendent for political reasons. But Devlin said Small did not apply for the job in the first round of applications.

In late April, the board voted in a split vote to suspend the first search for a new superintendent.

In early June, the board, again in a split vote, decided to again issue a request for quotes to find a new firm to do the search, but Steele ended that effort Tuesday night.

The board recently voted to extend Caldwell’s superintendent contract one year with a 12% raise, bringing his salary to $220,000.