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Running on empty: plane ran out of fuel before landing on St. Petersburg road

By Josh Solomon
Authorities said pilot Manuel Izquierdo ran out of fuel before he crashed at 18th Avenue S and 16th Street. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

ST. PETERSBURG ó The pilot who landed on a city street on Oct. 18 told air traffic controllers he was nearly out of fuel only minutes after takeoff.

Pilot Manuel Izquierdo, 36, radioed air traffic controllers that he was "fuel critical" and had only 20 minutes of fuel left on board, according to a report released last week by the National Transportation Safety Board. That was only 13 minutes after taking off from Tampa International Airport.

He and a passenger were en route to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, about 40 miles away by air.

Air traffic controllers directed Izquierdo toward Albert Whitted Airport in downtown St. Petersburg, which was seven miles away. The pilot told controllers he had the airport in sight.

Minutes later, Izquierdo landed the twin-engine Cessna 402B, registered to Noble Air Charter, on 18th Avenue S. It came to rest between 13th and 14th streets, about 1.5 miles short of Runway 7. The plane hit two vehicles on the road upon landing; nobody in the plane or the vehicles were seriously injured.

The NTSB didnít say in its preliminary report why Izquierdo found himself in the air without any fuel; that will be released in a final report, which will likely be published a year to two years after the accident. But aviation experts said he likely took off without first checking the fuel tanks.

"Unless he had a fuel leak," said Jim Brauchle, a South Carolina-based aviation lawyer who also served 10 years in the Air Force as an aviator. "But the way this is written, he took off without any gas, or very little gas."

Brauchle said during a preflight check, pilots should at least check the fuel gauge, if not physically peer into the tanks to check the fuel levels.

"Before each flight, when you file a flight plan, you have to do a fuel analysis."

The flight was the third leg of a four-leg trip that day, the NTSB said. It had started in Opa-locka, where Noble Air Charter is located, and flown to Tallahassee, according to flightaware.com, which tracks airplane movement. It then flew from Tallahassee to Tampa.

The planeís landing gear collapsed underneath the fuselage upon landing on the street and the aircraft sustained major damage to both wings, the tail and the nose. The wingtip fuel tanks separated from the wings, though the rest of the plane sat mostly intact on the roadway.

Izquierdo is a commercial pilot and holds ratings for multi-engine aircraft and instrument flight, the NTSB said. He had 622 hours of total flight experience.

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon. Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.