Friday, April 20, 2018
Public safety

Man swims away from plane crash into Boca Ciega Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — A gauge flickered off. The engine sounded odd — rough.

Tom Beaman radioed Albert Whitted Airport Friday and told them what was happening. One minute later, as he soared 1,000 feet above Boca Ciega Bay, the Cessna's engine died.

Below him stretched the dark water of the bay; to the south the 61-year-old spotted the Isla Del Sol Yacht and Country Club.

Should he crash land on the golf course or in the water?

He cracked the plane's door and began a prayer. He reached behind him and grabbed his life jacket.

Inside the country club, John Dunn and his wife, Nancy, were planning a weekend soiree with the club director, Alan Skipper. They sat in a room of empty dining tables — two forks on the left, fanning green napkins in front of crystal glassware. Normally they sit near the window to watch the dolphins splash in the bay.

"Look at that," Skipper said.

Nancy thought it was a sea plane, only she didn't see pontoons on the bottom.

"Oh, my gosh he's landing," Dunn said as he stood from his chair.

Beaman has 43 years of flying experience and has practiced for crash landings, he said. The Clearwater doctor has never had any engine trouble or mishaps before.

On Friday morning, he left from Albert Whitted, flew over Seminole and planned to hug the bay. The sky was a bit overcast, but not a bad day. He has been flying this area since the 1970s.

When the engine died he flipped a few switches and tried a few tricks to start it up. But as it became clear he was dropping, it was only a matter of where.

The plane hit the water at about 45 mph and the wheels tore into the waves. The plane flipped on its nose and Beaman's face slammed against the front window, leaving a curving scrape on his forehead. With his life jacket already on, he threw open the door.

Two boats raced from the far side of the bay. One boater scooped Beaman up and let him use a cell phone to call his wife.

Within two minutes the water swallowed the little Cessna. Paramedics treated Beaman for a few bumps and scratches, but the lanky man made light of the crash, still wearing his bloodied and seawater-soaked clothes.

Why didn't he land on the golf course?

"I've never liked golf," he joked.

As he walked across the country club parking lot to meet his wife and sister, shivering and wrapped in a towel, a man asked if he was okay. It's not every day someone swims away from a plane crash, the man yelled out.

Inside the country club, the director and the Dunns told each other it was like slow-motion, like watching TV. A bartender walked into the dining hall and told them the man who survived the crash was seated at the pool side bar.

"Someone buy that man a drink," Skipper said.

Beaman ordered three Diet Cokes. He sat next to his wife and sister and thanked God they had not been with him that day.

Weston Phippen can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8321

 
Comments
Portion of I-75 reopens in Sarasota after smoke settles over road

Portion of I-75 reopens in Sarasota after smoke settles over road

SARASOTA — A 10-mile stretch of southbound Interstate 75 has reopened in Sarasota County, after it was shut down earlier Friday morning due to smoke in the road.According to broadcast reports, the smoke was caused by a a prescribed burn in the area ...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Pinellas detention deputy fired for using racial slur

Pinellas detention deputy fired for using racial slur

LARGO — Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri fired a detention deputy Friday after an internal investigation found he used a racial slur to describe black inmates.A fellow Pinellas County Jail deputy reported Jorge Lopez, 30, after he repeatedly used the s...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Suspect in Gilchrist deputies’ slayings has Tampa Bay ties

Suspect in Gilchrist deputies’ slayings has Tampa Bay ties

The man identified as the suspect who fatally shot two Gilchrist County deputies in a restaurant Thursday afternoon before taking his own life has ties to the Tampa Bay area.Deputies say John Hubert Highnote, 59, of Bell — who was found dead outside ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Fugitive suspected in Bradenton woman’s death arrested in Texas

Fugitive suspected in Bradenton woman’s death arrested in Texas

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas — A woman suspected of killing her husband in Minnesota, then fleeing to Florida and killing a woman who resembled her in order to assume a new identity, was captured Thursday night at a South Texas resort.Two federal deputy...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Flight attendants say 'appalling' Southwest flight photo confirms it — you're not paying attention to the safety demo

Flight attendants say 'appalling' Southwest flight photo confirms it — you're not paying attention to the safety demo

Mario Nunez called it a "huge shaking my head moment" when the photo inside the cabin of Southwest Airlines flight 1380 appeared on his TV. The story was about a terrifying emergency landing after an engine exploded 20 minutes into a trip from New Y...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Firefighters battle apartment complex fire in Tampa

Firefighters battle apartment complex fire in Tampa

TAMPA — Firefighters were battling a blaze at Captiva Club Apartments on Thursday night, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.According to video taken at the scene, the roof of one of the apartment buildings at 4401 Club Captiva Dr. ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Two Florida deputies shot, killed at restaurant in Gilchrist County

Two Florida deputies shot, killed at restaurant in Gilchrist County

Two Gilchrist County sheriff’s deputies were shot and killed at a restaurant about 3 p.m. Thursday.The deputies were at Ace China restaurant in downtown Trenton when a man shot them through the restaurant’s window, a Sheriff’s Office statement said.A...
Published: 04/19/18
FHP: Distracted driver plunges more than 50 feet off I-275

FHP: Distracted driver plunges more than 50 feet off I-275

ST. PETERSBURG — A distracted driver walked away unscathed after his car plunged 50 feet off Interstate 275, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.Thomas Highhouse, 61, of Pinellas Park, was driving his 2016 Chevrolet Camaro south on Interstate 275...
Published: 04/19/18
Police: Knife-wielding burglar breaks into house, says ‘I’m the cops’

Police: Knife-wielding burglar breaks into house, says ‘I’m the cops’

LARGO — Detectives are seeking the public’s help in identifying a man who broke into a home early Thursday morning and confronted the owners with a knife.The incident took place about 3:40 a.m. at a townhouse at 7360 Ulmerton Road, according to Largo...
Published: 04/19/18
Deputies: Man broke into house, set it on fire and stole their dog

Deputies: Man broke into house, set it on fire and stole their dog

SEMINOLE — A Seminole man was arrested on allegations that he burglarized a home, set it on fire and stole the homeowner’s dog, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Austin Lang, 19, now faces numerous charges of burglary, arson and poss...
Published: 04/19/18