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Experts: Father, killed by landing plane, may not have heard its approach

Federal investigators are still trying to figure out why a small plane landed on a Venice beach on Sunday, killing a Georgia father and critically injuring his 9-year-old daughter as they walked along the sand.

But aviation experts contacted by the Tampa Bay Times offered explanations for the puzzling accident. Couldn't the father have gotten himself and his daughter out of the way? Why didn't the pilot try to avoid them?

It was not clear Monday afternoon what forced pilot Karl Kokomoor, 57, to make an emergency landing on Caspersen Beach, a strip of sand popular for shelling. Venice Municipal Airport was about a mile away.

It's possible the pilot didn't see Ommy Irizarry and his daughter, Oceana, said Rex Myers, who manages the Pilot Country Airport in Spring Hill. Kokomoor could have been distracted by the dual pressures of keeping the airplane gliding smoothly to the beach and scouting out a landing strip.

"My guess is, he was concentrating so hard on landing the airplane on the beach that he literally didn't see the people," Myers said.

What's more, if the plane's engine failed, it would have been gliding in almost silently, said Stuart Campbell, assistant professor of aeronautical science at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.

That means the 36-year-old father, on vacation with his family, wouldn't have heard the small Piper Cherokee plane behind them until seconds before they were struck.

"It's like a car passing you," Campbell said. "You don't hear the car until it's right up on you, maybe due to wind or maybe due to noise."

Myers agreed.

"If you're walking on the beach and your back is to the airplane, you would never hear it coming," Myers said.

Ommy Irizarry died at the scene. Oceana Irizarry was airlifted to All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine, where she remained in critical condition Monday.

Myers, 71, a retired Boeing 767 pilot who also flies small aircraft, said if he had seen the family, he would have steered his plane into the water at the last second. But that sort of landing usually causes the plane to flip, leaving the cabin in the water and the pilot disoriented.

"It's almost always fatal," Myers said.

Pilots are trained to scout a suitable landing strip at all times, Campbell said. When it became clear that the plane wouldn't make it to the airport, Campbell said, the pilot would have had just a split second to find a second option.

"Personally, if I had a choice, I would land on the beach and not the water," Campbell said.

Campbell added that the pilot's thinking may have changed because he was carrying a passenger.

Kokomoor and passenger David Theen, 60, were uninjured.

Venice Municipal Airport does not have a control tower, but pilots use radios to coordinate their takeoffs and landings. Kokomoor made a distress call via radio Sunday just before the crash.

Callers first from the airport, then from the beach reported the plane going down.

"It hit the water, then kind of rolled up on the sand," one caller told a dispatcher.

Tallahassee teenager Zack Arcenaux arrived at the beach to shell with his family just after the crash. He saw the plane sitting near the water line and the father's body, bloodied, about 10 feet behind the plane. His daughter was obscured by a crowd of rescuers.

Ommy Irizarry, a native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, was an Army sergeant first class. Stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., he served two deployments to Iraq, an Army spokesman said.

"This is a heart-wrenching situation, especially losing a loved one while on vacation to celebrate a family milestone," Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, 3rd Infantry Division and Stewart-Hunter commander, said in a written statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Irizarry family."

Facebook posts from the week show Ommy and his wife, Rebecca, three children and an older woman. In one, they're smiling in the water. In another, they're lounging under a tent at Siesta Key.

On Friday, Ommy snapped a picture of a child's writing in the sand: "I love Mom + Dad."

Just hours before he died, one of Ommy's posts was in celebration of his ninth wedding anniversary.

"Thank you for being with me through thick and thin . . . ," he wrote to his wife. "I am very happy and can't wait to see what the next 100 have in store for us."

Contact Claire Wiseman at cwiseman@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman.

Experts: Father, killed by landing plane, may not have heard its approach 07/28/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 28, 2014 10:46pm]

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