Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Aerobatic pilot, teen die in Pasco plane crash during practice

DADE CITY — A nationally known aerobatic pilot and his high-school-aged passenger died while practicing maneuvers over east Pasco County orange groves Monday.

The pilot, Paul Lopez, 40, performed in air shows around the country. He was trying to turn the gigs into full-time work after being laid off from his banking job last year.

His passenger, a local high school student, was an aspiring pilot, according to Lopez's family. They did not know the young man's name or age.

Lopez and the teenager perished in Lopez's MX2, a sleek, single-engine aircraft designed for aerobatics.

The plane apparently entered a spin and did not recover before slamming into the ground and catching fire.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is investigating the accident, along with the National Transportation Safety Board. Neither agency has released any details surrounding the crash.

Nadine Sheehan, 65, of Zephyrhills was leaving a nearby strawberry field when she saw the plane "doing loop de loops and turning sideways" over Enterprise Road.

She got out of her truck to watch. After about 10 minutes of stunts, the plane leveled off and an eerie silence filled the orange groves.

"It went straight down," she said. "I heard the boom and saw the flames."

Lopez fell in love with flying as a child watching air shows with his father near their home in Simi Valley, Calif.

As a teenager, Lopez could not afford lessons, but he was determined to learn how to fly.

"I would bang on all the flight school doors at Van Nuys airport (in Los Angeles) looking for one of them to trade me flying lessons for washing their planes," he wrote on his Web site, paullopezairshows.com.

Lopez earned his commercial and single-engine flying licenses and eventually got a job in the television industry.

By the late 1990s, Lopez had made enough money to pursue his dream of aerobatics. Just watching the loops, spins and rolls gave him an adrenaline rush.

"I thought only beautiful women could do that to me," Lopez wrote on his site. "I knew I was in trouble."

Lopez's mother watched him perform for the first time at a contest in Sebring years later. Her stomach was in knots the whole time.

"I had to be brave," said Sharleen Lopez, 68, of Wesley Chapel. "It was a wonderful thing (to watch,) yet you're scared to death."

She and Lopez's father, Paul, had been preparing for a trip to Titusville, where Lopez was slated to perform in the Valiant Air Command Warbird Airshow this weekend.

Since being let go from his job as a bank loan officer four months ago, Lopez made flying his full-time job.

He had gigs scheduled this year in Colorado, Michigan and Tennessee. He had also recently started an online radio show, Smoke On Aerobatics.

Lopez did not have any children. He was divorced and lived alone in the only apartment available to rent at the Zeph­yrhills Municipal Airport.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.

Aerobatic pilot, teen die in Pasco plane crash during practice 03/09/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 10, 2009 7:35am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Kushner to testify before two intelligence committees

    Politics

    WASHINGTON— President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to make a second appearance on Capitol Hill — he will speak with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, one day after he is scheduled to speak with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators behind closed doors.

    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. [Associated Press]
  2. Rays relishing surprise status

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays on Friday played their first post-All-Star Game contest at Tropicana Field while holding a playoff spot since Sept. 23, 2013.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) throwing in the first inning of the game between the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, July 21, 2017.
  3. Exhumation of Dalí's remains finds his mustache still intact

    World

    FIGUERES, Spain — Forensic experts in Spain have removed hair, nails and two long bones from Salvador Dalí's embalmed remains to aid a court-ordered paternity test that may enable a woman who says she is the surrealist artist's daughter to claim part of Dalí's vast estate.

    Salvador Dal? died in 1989 leaving vast estate.
  4. Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — Russia's ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, current and former U.S. …

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation after meetings with an ambassador were revealed.
  5. Rick Kriseman's administration lashed in St. Pete sewage report

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG — A state report places much of the blame for the city's 200-million gallon sewage spill crisis on the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman.

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September 2016 to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage from the city's overwhelmed sewer system. St. Petersburg dumped up to 200 million gallons of sewage over 13 months from 2015-16. A new state report blames much of the crisis on mistakes made by the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman, but also critcizes past administrations. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]