ST. PETERSBURG — Gilbert Nadeau was trying to land at Albert Whitted Airport on Tuesday evening, but his small two-seater airplane came in too fast.
"He started pumping his brakes," said St. Petersburg Fire Rescue paramedic Greg Harvin, "and started running out of runway."
The pilot ran out of land, too. Nadeau's plane skipped off the runway and plunged into the waters of Tampa Bay, just east of the airport about 7 p.m., authorities said.
But Nadeau, 58, emerged without a scratch. He wasn't even wet.
"The stars lined up for him," Harvin said.
Nadeau told firefighters that he was returning from the Sun 'n Fun Air Show in Lakeland when the accident occurred.
Rusty Burkitt was taking a walk along Albert Whitted Playground when he saw the plane approaching from the west. It was lined up on Runway 3.
"It looked like he was just coming in for a regular landing," Burkitt said. "Then he bounced.
"The next thing I saw was a big splash."
The impact wrecked the airplane, firefighters said, but Nadeau emerged unscathed. A passing boater picked up the St. Petersburg resident and delivered him to paramedics on a rocky outcrop along the water.
They pulled Nadeau onto land, witnesses said, and the pilot walked on his own to the emergency vehicles lined up along the end of the runway.
"He didn't look disabled at all," Burkett said. "He looked disgusted."
Indeed, Harvin said, Nadeau seemed shaken and a bit embarrassed by the crash. When the paramedic asked him what happened, the pilot told him: "Isn't it obvious?"
Firefighters, however, were marveling at his escape — dry and unharmed — from a water crash that totaled the plane.
"That was amazing," Harvin said. "That guy wasn't wet at all."
The plane's canopy was still visible when rescuers arrived and the tail was pointing out of the water. The pilot remained on the runway with firefighters, who were trying to keep the plane's wreckage afloat to prevent any contaminants from leaking into the water.
Booms were placed around the plane to keep it from sinking. It will likely be towed by a fire rescue boat to land. The investigation was continuing Tuesday night.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472.