ST. PETERSBURG — The flight instructor who survived a nosedive crash at Albert Whitted Airport spoke out for the first time Thursday, thanking first responders and offering condolences for the family of a friend who died in the accident.
"Jim Finnegan's friendship and spirit have made an everlasting impact on my life," said Patrick Murphy, 37. "Jim and C.J. (his wife) and the Finnegan family are held strongly in my heart as they cope with this tragedy."
Murphy, of St. Petersburg, was in fair condition at Bayfront Medical Center, said hospital spokeswoman Emily Nipps.
A National Transportation Safety Board investigator who surveyed the wreckage at the airport Thursday said it is too early to determine the cause of the crash but that a preliminary report will be issued within 10 days.
James Allen Finnegan, 79, died while piloting the 1947 Luscombe model 8A when the two-seat aircraft crashed at 1:52 p.m. Wednesday, police said. Finnegan owned the plane but had not flown in several years.
He was taking a refresher training course from Murphy, a certified flight instructor. They were practicing take-offs and landings, said Eric Weiss, public affairs officer for the National Transportation Safety Board.
The plane touched down once before taking off and ascending as high as 100 feet, witnesses said. The tail of the plane wiggled a bit and then the craft nosedived into the runway.
Murphy jumped out of the plane after the crash and tried to pull Finnegan out, witnesses said.
Finnegan was unconscious and bleeding as a restaurant worker and two airport mechanics came to his aid.
"I would like to thank the emergency services personnel and the pilot community at Whitted Airport for their heroic and rapid response," Murphy said.
Michael Finch II can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @mike_finch2.