Young man killed flying banner plane was working to become airline pilot

The pilot of a banner plane that crashed last weekend in Cape May County graduated from a college aviation program last year and was working toward his airline pilot license.

To do that, Thomas Gibson, 23, was accumulating flight hours by flying single-engine airplanes that tow advertisement banners above the Jersey Shore, his obituary and an official at his church said.

Last Saturday morning, July 16, Gibson took off at about 9:30 am in a Piper PA-12 from Paramount Air Airport and circled back to the airstrip to pick up a banner, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTBS) spokesperson said.

Gibson missed the pickup and crashed moments later near the field, in Green Creek, Middle Township, the NTSB said. He died at the scene, local authorities said.

The investigation is ongoing by the NTSB.

Gibson was flying for Cape May Aerial Advertising, which recently took over banner sales and flying from Paramount Air Service, which was founded in 1945 by Andre Tomalino, a World War II veteran who served as an Army glider pilot.

The maneuver to pick up a banner is a tricky piece of flying, as Paramount pilots demonstrated for NJ Advance Media in 2020. They take off, drop a hook from the plane, return to the airport and fly low, sometimes at just below 20 feet , and then rapidly climb after they hook the banner from a line stretched across the runway.

Jeromie Hunter, the owner of Cape May Aerial Advertising, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Gibson was a faithful and passionate young man who had goals for his future that mostly revolved around flying, his obituary and an official at his church said.

He already held a commercial pilot license, but was amassing flight hours for the coveted, airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate, the highest aviation certification in the United States.

“He was just a great young man. It’s just a tragedy, ”said Patsy Stonelake, the wife of pastor Jim Stonelake, at the Church of the Nazarene in Northfield. Gibson and his brother and parents had been worshipping there for two years.

His service last week drew over 1,000 mourners and was moved to a local country club to accommodate attendees. The receiving line was so long the service started late, but it was a beautiful, yet sorrowful remembrance, Stokelake said.

Her husband, the pastor, read from Gibson’s prayer journal, which his parents found after his death. Many in attendance were from Marywood University, where Gibson graduated in 2021 from the Scranton, Pennsylvania university’s aviation program.

He was a prominent midfielder on the lacrosse team who was known as “Gibby,” and started every game of the 2020 season, the university said. He finished his career di lui there with 44 ground balls, six forced turnovers and one goal, the university said.

In a statement, the Marywood lacrosse team said Gibson, “was one of the hardest working people both on and off of the field. There was never a moment where Gibby did not have a smile on his face of him. Tom was loved by his teammates of him and numerous members of the Marywood community. “

Before moving to Ocean City recently, Gibson lived in Gloucester Township and Medford Lakes, and was a 2017 graduate of Shawnee High School.

Gibson is survived by his brother, parents, numerous relatives, and Lauren Fritzsch, who his obituary described as “the love of his life.”

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Kevin Shea may be reached at kshea@njadvancemedia.com.

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