Friday, May 25, 2018
Public safety

Veteran pilot lands malfunctioning small plane in Valrico field

VALRICO — Two people and a dog apparently escaped serious injury when the light plane they were riding in crashed in a Valrico field Friday afternoon.

Just before 4 p.m., John Murray's Cessna 182 made a hard landing in a cow pasture at the intersection of Dew Bloom Road and Mount Carmel Road, near a residential neighborhood.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said Tampa Murray, 66, his wife, Phyllis, 63, and their 11-year-old schnauzer, Gizmo, took off from Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands on their way to Miami.

Murray, an aviation attorney who has been flying for 50 years, told Bay News 9 he was in the air for 10 minutes before his plane began to malfunction.

"The reason the landing was as hard as it was, was because I simply couldn't see out … " Murray said. "The wind screen was covered in black oil."

The veteran pilot didn't characterize the unexpected landing as a crash.

"I did what every pilot is trained to do," Murray said.

Eddie Delvalle was outside painting his home when he spotted the plane. "We saw the plane come in really low, and we felt the impact and came running back here," said Delvalle, who lives a few doors away.

Delvalle, 28, said the plane's occupants told him they had been airborne for about 15 minutes when the engine stopped suddenly.

Deputies said the plane began losing altitude and was significantly damaged on its underbelly and nose cone during the landing.

The Murrays were walking around shortly after the incident, according to Delvalle. No one was taken to the hospital, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

"He did a really good job," said Ronnie Rivera, a spokesman for Fire Rescue. "There were power lines on both sides of where he landed and he didn't hit them."

Fire Rescue stopped a small fuel leak from the Cessna wreckage by transferring it from the plane to a drum, but some of the fuel had already spilled into the pasture. Hazardous Materials crews worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to protect neighboring homes Friday night.

Esmerlin Gomez, 25, was in his back yard jumping on his trampoline when he saw the plane fly over his house on Tuscanny Street and take a nosedive to avoid power lines.

"I couldn't hear any noise from the engine," Gomez said. "It was dead."

Gomez said he called 911, jumped his fence and ran toward the plane. He came upon the Murrays after they exited the plane.

"I just kept asking if they were okay," Gomez said. "They had no marks on them or anything. They got lucky. They actually found the field."

Murray said he used the plane, which he's had for six years, several times a month for business trips.

"I'm an aviation attorney, so this was not something new to me," he said. "But this is the first one I have been involved with personally."

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the incident.

Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde and Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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