Pilot safe after small plane crashes near Bayside Bridge

CLEARWATER — It was about 2 a.m. Friday when the engine quit on Anthony Marsh's Piper Cherokee airplane.

Marsh, 47, had left Pennsylvania about six hours earlier and was en route to Pinellas County. The engine stopped as he approached St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

The pilot of nine years went through the emergency steps, but nothing worked. He was at 1,000 feet and falling fast.

Marsh knew he would not make it to the airport. He looked for a place to land.

The Courtney Campbell Parkway and the Bayside Bridge were too crowded with night owl traffic.

Rather than risk hitting a car and hurting other people, Marsh decided to land in the water.

He splashed down near the Bayside Bridge. The plane landed hard.

Marsh nearly blacked out from the impact. But he willed himself to stay awake so he wouldn't drown. Frigid water rushed into the plane. The door was stuck. The plane started to sink.

Marsh took a deep breath as water rushed over his face. He was panicking. He still couldn't open the door. Everything was black.

He got his feet onto the windshield and kicked. He felt it give way. He wiggled out of the plane and swam, gulping water on the way up as his lungs burned. He broke the surface in what felt like his final moments.

Marsh swam to the tail, which was the only part of the plane still above water, and sat on it. Drivers on the Bayside stopped and shouted to him: Are you okay? He said he was.

Rescue crews reached him about a half-hour later and took him ashore. Then the entire plane sank to the bottom.

Marsh was taken to Mease Countryside Hospital and treated for injuries to his hand and head. He was later released. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

Friday afternoon, Marsh stood on the Bayside Bridge and watched as a crew salvaged his plane. His right hand was stitched and bandaged from where the steering wheel cut into it on impact. His right eye was blackened. He squinted in the sun, crossed his arms and talked about what had happened.

"You don't have a lot of time," he said. "I had to make a decision."

On his call to land in the water instead of on a roadway, he said: "I'm already going to get hurt. I didn't want to be selfish."

Marsh, who described himself as self-employed, said he was flying to Florida so he could move to Clearwater. Now he fears his plane will be scrapped because of saltwater damage.

"I love that plane," he said. "I brought it here to have fun. Fun in the sun."

Pilot safe after small plane crashes near Bayside Bridge 02/22/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 22, 2013 11:18pm]

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