WESLEY CHAPEL — Keith Carver took his plane Monday afternoon over a rural part of central Pasco and was scanning the ground when he saw the smoke drifting over the treetops. Then he saw the debris field.
Carver, the owner of Tampa North Aero Park, had gone searching after hearing that the air traffic control tower had lost contact with a pilot's cellphone off the end of a northwest runway around 8:30 a.m. Sunday. The single-engine Piper Arrow was bound for Crossville, Tenn., according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Some 30 hours after the plane took off, Carver found its burning wreckage deep in the remote Cypress Creek well field off State Road 52 and Ehren Cutoff, 4 miles north of the flight center. He radioed someone else to call authorities. A family member had also notified the FAA that the pilot didn't make it home, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office said.
The Sheriff's Office confirmed that one person was killed in the crash. Officials identified him late Monday as Harold Cameron MacManus, 59, of Tennessee.
MacManus is the younger brother of Susan MacManus, a political analyst and professor at the University of South Florida. Susan MacManus said her younger brother, who was a doctor, bought the plane a few months ago.
Harold MacManus and his sisters all attended Pasco High School, and he had worked at the airport, earning flying lessons instead of paychecks. That's where he was first licensed to fly.
But as he went on to Duke University and started a life as "the consummate country doctor," time lapsed and so did his pilot's license, Susan MacManus said.
She said he decided to pursue it again so that he could visit his family. He was never a lavish spender, but buying that plane made him happier than she had ever seen him.
He also was expecting his third grandchild in two weeks.
"The hardest thing of all will be to tell his oldest grandson that he's not coming again," said Susan MacManus. "Because he just loved his granddad." The boy is 5.
Harold MacManus spent the week playing golf with a doctor buddy from Ohio and roaming through orange groves with his sisters, like he did when they were little kids. The three of them had coffee early Sunday morning, Susan MacManus said. It was the last time she heard from her brother.
Responders had to make their own paths into the woods to reach the still-smoldering wreckage. Firefighters contained a fire that burned 15 acres around the debris, said training chief Andrew Fossa of Pasco Fire Rescue.
The investigation is being handled by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board. Crash investigations usually take months to reach a conclusion.
Carver said the Aero Park, which also houses a flight school, has about 30 flights a day. But the instructional flights were grounded Sunday due to weather conditions. Trained pilots had permission to take off, however.
"(The pilot) took off in weather conditions where they canceled our flight instruction," he said. "That's how bad the weather was."
Information from Bay News 9 supplements this report. Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.