Monday, December 11, 2017
Public safety

Plane in fatal crash raised from bay near Albert Whitted Airport

ST. PETERSBURG — Recovery workers retrieved a small plane Monday that crashed into Tampa Bay near Albert Whitted Airport on Sunday, killing the pilot.

It's the latest in a number of crashes by banner advertising planes at Albert Whitted over the years.

The Piper PA-23, registered to Aerial Banners Inc., crashed about 1 p.m., about 75 yards south of the airport's seawall.

Shortly after takeoff, pilot Donald Thomasson, 70, banked to the left and nose-dived into the water.

Witnesses said it sounded as if the plane lost power after it tried to pick up a banner. The plane sank quickly, leaving little time for emergency responders to save Thomasson, who was still strapped inside the cockpit of the single-seat plane.

The Coast Guard responded first, about six minutes after the crash. But it does not have a dive rescue team.

"We survey the area and get any information possible to set up a security patrol to make sure no one is going in the area who's not part of the search-and-rescue effort," said Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd class Ashley Johnson. "And we also ferry the person back to shore. And had the person been responsive, we would have conducted first aid on the person."

St. Petersburg Fire Rescue divers responded instead. Crews from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Pinellas Sheriff's Office also assisted the rescue effort.

Thomasson's body was transported the Coast Guard station near the airport.

Aerial Banners Inc. could not be reached Monday for comment.

"It's a dangerous business that we're in," said Robert Benyo, who owns a different banner advertising company that occasionally flies from Albert Whitted.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires companies to apply for a waiver to tow a banner. In 2007, the FAA revoked that waiver for Aerial Banners Inc.

"The revocation decision was reached after considering nine safety 'events,' ranging from paperwork violations to plane crashes, over the preceding two years," a court petition to review the FAA's decision states.

Some of these incidents, from 2005 to 2007, included crashes, a forced landing because a pilot ran out of fuel, and paperwork errors in maintenance forms.

The problems go back further.

The plane in Sunday's wreck was towed to a hangar bearing a sign that read "Advertising Air Force." That company and Aerial Banners have separate websites but share phone numbers.

City officials banned Advertising Air Force from Albert Whitted in 1986, partly because of how many crashes it had been involved in. The ban lasted about nine months.

Since then, some of the company's other crashes include:

• In 1994, an Advertising Air Force plane crashed onto a golf course due to engine problems.

• In 1997, a 6-foot metal pole rocketed into a St. Petersburg yard and nearly killed two people. The pole fell off an Advertising Air Force banner.

• In 1998, 2001 and as recently as March, Advertising Air Force planes crashed into the bay. In the March incident, the pilot picked up his banner and began his ascent when the engine suddenly failed. He crashed into the water but climbed free of the cockpit. Rescuers found him sitting atop the plane.

Thomasson's family did not want to comment Monday.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Contact Weston Phippen at [email protected] or (727) 893-8321. Follow @westonphippen.

 
Comments
Reasons elusive as Pinellas EMS demand skyrockets

Reasons elusive as Pinellas EMS demand skyrockets

When the fire chief asked if anyone in the room had fallen before, a few in the gray- and white-haired crowd raised their hands. One woman lost her footing as she was answering the phone. Another saw a palmetto bug, sprayed it with repellent, then s...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
‘What I am detained for?’ Comedian Hannibal Buress arrested in Miami

‘What I am detained for?’ Comedian Hannibal Buress arrested in Miami

Popular comedian Hannibal Buress was arrested Saturday night in Wynwood on a disorderly intoxication charge after an encounter with a police officer.Buress, 34, was booked into a Miami-Dade jail at 1:57 a.m. Sunday and posted bail just before 6 a.m.,...
Published: 12/10/17
Florida Uber driver charged with sexual assault of passenger

Florida Uber driver charged with sexual assault of passenger

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida Uber driver is facing charges that he sexually assaulted a drunken passenger.The Orlando Sentinel reports that 38-year-old Jorge Alberto Antunez Quintero was charged this week with sexual battery after an investigation ...
Published: 12/09/17
Florida man accused of killing Ollie the pit bull faces 17 counts of animal cruelty

Florida man accused of killing Ollie the pit bull faces 17 counts of animal cruelty

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The Florida man accused in the brutal stabbing death of a pit bull named Ollie is facing 17 counts of aggravated animal cruelty — one for each of 16 deep stab wounds and one for trapping the dog inside a suitcase.Prosecutors filed f...
Published: 12/09/17
Deputies: Friend didn’t pull trigger, still faces murder charge

Deputies: Friend didn’t pull trigger, still faces murder charge

TAMPA — A 23-year-old man faces a charge of felony murder in connection with a drug deal that left his friend dead, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Daundrea Lamar Butler is not accused of taking part in the killing, however. He ...
Published: 12/08/17
Bill would punish car theft victims

Bill would punish car theft victims

Left your car running, and a teen stole it?Some state lawmakers think you should be criminally charged for that.Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, this week filed House Bill 927, which would make it a second-degree misdemeanor to leave your car un...
Published: 12/08/17

Hernando sheriff: 27 dogs seized in chains, with no water or shelter

BROOKSVILLE — Twenty-seven dogs were seized Thursday after the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said they were found tethered to heavy chains, without water or shelter.Deputies said they received several complaints about the dogs and ended up issuing...
Published: 12/08/17
Delgado gets 25 years in prison for role in 2015 Moon Lake triple murder

Delgado gets 25 years in prison for role in 2015 Moon Lake triple murder

NEW PORT RICHEY — Dora Delgado will spend the next 25 years in prison for shooting one person, who survived, and aiding in the shooting deaths of three other people in Moon Lake in February 2015.Delgado, 41, pleaded guilty Thursday morning to one cou...
Published: 12/08/17

Passenger dies after falling out of van in Plant City

PLANT CITY — A person was killed Friday after falling out of a van into the roadway, police said.The passenger, whose name and gender was not released, fell out of a van traveling north on Alexander Street near Interstate 4 about 3 p.m., according to...
Published: 12/08/17
Valrico man charged with attempted murder after trying to stab man in Seffner, deputies say

Valrico man charged with attempted murder after trying to stab man in Seffner, deputies say

SEFFNER — A 52-year-old Valrico man faces an attempted first degree murder charge after he repeatedly tried to stab a man last month, deputies said.Ronald C. Westendorf was arrested Tuesday on a warrant in Pinellas County and booked into the Hillsbor...
Published: 12/08/17