Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pilot dies after small plane crashes off Port Richey coast

Family members leave Brasher Park after the fatal plane crash.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Family members leave Brasher Park after the fatal plane crash.

PORT RICHEY — John Paul Donnenfield had become a regular sight off the Port Richey coast, performing aerial acrobatics over the gulf in his Pitts single-seater aircraft.

Family members gathered at Brasher Park on Monday to watch the latest impromptu air show, and some strangers came out to watch, too. Donnenfield, 33, did a series of loops in the red and white biplane, each time diving closer to the gulf waters before pulling back toward the sky.

"He must have a cast iron stomach to do the loops he's doing," Michael McGraw told his wife, Lisa, who came to the park from their home nearby to watch.

Then about noon, authorities said, the engine sputtered and stalled. The aircraft plunged into the Gulf of Mexico, about 200 yards from the shore. Donnenfield's wife screamed.

Donnenfield, who worked as a pilot for United Airlines, died in the crash, said Port Richey Police Officer Gerard DeCanio.

"He was doing many, many, many tricks, around and around. He was doing fantastic and then all of the sudden it (the engine) just cut out," said Sharon Hopkins, a Pasco school bus driver who took her lunch break at Brasher Park to watch the aerial acrobatics. "God forbid, we never expected this catastrophe," she said.

Police said Donnenfield was the only person in the plane. He had taken off about 11:30 a.m. from the airstrip in New Port Richey's Hidden Lake Estates, an aviation community where he lived.

Allen Schunk, who was kayaking off the coast of Brasher Park, saw the plane go down. He paddled to the wreckage along with some commercial boaters who cut Donnenfield's body from the plane. Boats took emergency responders to the wreckage, but it was too late to revive the pilot. Pasco Fire Rescue pronounced him dead at 12:38 p.m.

DeCanio said the investigation now passes to the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Pilot dies after small plane crashes off Port Richey coast 05/21/12 [Last modified: Monday, May 21, 2012 9:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Deandre Gilmore guilty, but not of murder, jury decides

    Criminal

    TAMPA — The actions of Deandre Gilmore caused the death of his girlfriend's 19-month-old daughter in 2014, but a Hillsborough County jury decided Friday it was manslaughter, not murder.

    Deandre Gilmore looks towards the gallery Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 in a Tampa courtroom. Gilmore is accused of killing Myla Presley the 19 month-old daughter of his then girlfriend Nayashia Williams while Gilmore was giving her a bath.
  2. Bucs-Bills: Things to watch in Sunday's 1 p.m. game

    Bucs

    FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2017, file photo, Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) runs past Atlanta Falcons' De'Vondre Campbell (59) and Deion Jones (45) during the second half of an NFL football game, in Atlanta. The Bills play against the Buccaneers in Buffalo on Sunday. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File) NY182
  3. Koetter: QB Jameis Winston will start Sunday vs. Bills

    Bucs

    After five days of uncertainty, Jameis Winston will be starting at quarterback on Sunday as the Bucs play at Buffalo, coach Dirk Koetter announced Friday afternoon.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) watches a replay while sitting out with an injury during the second half of an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
  4. What to watch this weekend: 'The Walking Dead,' Stephen King's '1922'

    Blogs

    100 episodes of walkers: The Walking Dead

    Danai Gurira and Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead.
  5. Editorial: GOP failing to protect health care for Florida kids

    Editorials

    In Tallahassee, the Florida Legislature is considering how to make it easier for low-income families to apply for subsidized health insurance for their children. In Washington, Congress cannot even agree on how to keep paying for the popular program. There is a disconnect that threatens health coverage for about 215,000 …

    In Tallahassee, the Florida Legislature is considering how to make it easier for low-income families to apply for subsidized health insurance for their children. In Washington, Congress cannot even agree on how to keep paying for the popular program.