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Former Dunedin man killed by plane making emergency landing on beach

The experimental Lancair IV-P plane that struck and killed Robert Jones sits on the beach on Hilton Head Island, S.C., on Tuesday. Neither the pilot nor a passenger was injured.

Associated Press

The experimental Lancair IV-P plane that struck and killed Robert Jones sits on the beach on Hilton Head Island, S.C., on Tuesday. Neither the pilot nor a passenger was injured.

Robert "Bobby'' Jones never heard nor saw the plane.

The 38-year-old Dunedin native was listening to his iPod as he jogged Monday evening along the beach on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

The single-engine plane, which had lost its propeller and was trying to glide in for an emergency landing, hit Jones from behind, killing him instantly.

"There's no noise," said aviation expert Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general for the National Transportation Safety Board. "So the jogger, with his ear buds in, and the plane without an engine, you're basically a stealth aircraft. Who would expect to look up?"

Jones' mother, Pauline Jones of Clearwater, said in an interview Tuesday, "If they had told me he had a car accident, I think I could've handled it. But they told me about this airplane … that is such a fluky thing. I was just out of my mind."

Robert Jones was at the South Carolina resort island for a business trip. He was scheduled to return to his home in Woodstock, Ga., on Tuesday, his daughter's third birthday, his mother said.

"He was a great father, a great husband, a wonderful person and a wonderful son. Everybody just loved him," Pauline Jones, 66, said. "He was just a jewel of a kid."

Robert Jones was born in Dunedin and graduated from Dunedin High School in 1989. He earned a bachelor's and a master's degree from Florida State University, where he met his wife, Jennifer, who was from Clearwater, Pauline Jones said.

He was often out of town for his job with the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, where he was a senior accounts manager. He had worked for the company since 1997, his mother said. Most of all, he loved spending time with his family, she said.

He is survived by the daughter, Haven Alexia Jones; a son, Christopher Robert Jones, 5; wife Jennifer; and his mother.

Robert Jones lost his father, Pauline Jones' ex-husband, just a few months ago from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Shortly thereafter, Jones told his family that if anything ever happened to him, he wanted to be brought back to Pinellas County, where he grew up, his mother said.

The family had planned to celebrate Haven's birthday this weekend when Pauline Jones flew up to Georgia. Instead, Robert Jones' wife and children will come here for a memorial service.

In trying to find something positive about her son's death, Pauline Jones said she was blessed that he gave her two beautiful grandchildren.

"I always called him my baby, my baby boy. He was such a handsome boy, looked exactly like his father. Now I've got his little one," she said. "His little boy looks just like him."

The plane that hit Jones was still on the beach Tuesday afternoon. Waves lapped against it and the tail was attached to an anchor with a rope so the tide wouldn't pull it out to sea. The waves had washed away any sign of it skidding across the sand.

Yellow crime scene tape stretched from the water to the dunes to keep people away. Tourists walked up to the tape, gawking and snapping pictures. Other than the missing propeller, the plane appeared undamaged.

Federal Aviation Administration records show the experimental Lancair IV-P plane was registered to Edward I. Smith of Chesapeake, Va.

Smith was on the beach with his plane Tuesday and confirmed he was the pilot. He said he did not want to talk about the crash and offered few details.

"I've got a lot of issues going on right now. I've got a plane that's all torn up. And I've got a young man that I killed," he said.

Authorities said there was also a passenger on board but did not identify him or her. The pilot and the passenger were not injured in the crash.

The plane started leaking oil at about 13,000 feet and the pilot initially tried to make it to Hilton Head Airport, said fire and rescue spokeswoman Joheida Fister.

The oil on the windshield blocked Smith's vision and he told authorities the propeller came off. When he tried to land on the beach near the Hilton Head Marriott Resort and Spa, the plane hit Jones and came to rest a little farther down the beach, Fister said.

Jones died instantly, said the coroner in Beaufort County, S.C., Ed Allen.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating, Fister said. An FAA spokeswoman referred inquiries to the NTSB.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Former Dunedin man killed by plane making emergency landing on beach 03/16/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 12:09am]
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