TAMPA — A small white plane with a blue stripe sat in the center of a football field, just past the track, tipped over on its left side but, remarkably, in one piece Tuesday night.
The pilot had just taken off from Tampa International Airport en route to Fort Lauderdale for a courier company when the single-engine Cessna developed mechanical trouble around 8:40 p.m., Tampa police said.
Thinking quickly, Eric P. Stasiowski landed the plane on the dark football field behind Stewart Middle School in the 1100 block of E Spruce Street, said Lt. Danielle Spradlin, a spokeswoman for Tampa Fire Rescue.
Stasiowski, of Wellsley, Mass., was not injured, police said. He is a licensed pilot, flight instructor and ground instructor, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. He has 12 years of flight experience, Spradlin said.
The Cessna 210L fixed-wing. single-engine plane was registered to an Orlando-based company called Flight Express Inc.
Spradlin said Stasiowski was fortunate to have found a safe place to land in a densely populated residential area.
"He's a little shaken up, but I think he's realized he was lucky to find a place like this," she said.
Spradlin said though the plane had a small fuel leak that forced it to land, there was no environmental exposure. The field may reopen as soon as the plane is hauled away this morning.
The incident is another oddity this week for the Stewart Middle campus. Early Monday, a 7-foot alligator was spotted outside classroom buildings and chased inside a hallway at the school, where it was captured.