The pilot of the red-and-white single-engine Cessna had a choice: Crash into a building or into Bayboro Harbor.
He chose the harbor.
Bill Bolin of Largo and his passenger, Jeff Hayden, were released after being treated at the U.S. Coast Guard Station on Eighth Avenue SE, near where their plane crashed Tuesday.
According to the Coast Guard, Bolin and Hayden rented the plane from Cecily's Flight Center and took off from Albert Whitted Municipal Airport a little after 1 p.m.
"The pilot said that as soon as he took off he lost oil pressure and realized he was not going to make it all the way back to the airfield," said Petty Officer Bob Jacobberger, one of the crew who rescued the two men. "He decided it was a lot safer to ditch it in the water. He did an outstanding job of putting it down."
As soon as the plane crashed, Bolin, 36, and Hayden, 45, scrambled out. Witnesses said Bolin stood on top of the plane, but it sank quickly.
"He told me he thought it would float longer than it did," Jacobberger said.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Jeffrey Olivarri looked out the window of his office just as the plane came down and alerted his supervisors to sound the alarm.
"We see planes come in all the time," he said. "But this one looked real strange. The way he was coming in didn't look right. It looked like it wasn't going to make it to the airport."
After being treated by emergency workers, Bolin and Hayden left the scene and were unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Officers said the two were shaken. "They looked a little dazed," Lt. Thomas R. Greene said. "They were out there treading water for about two minutes."
The St. Petersburg Fire Department's hazardous materials team also responded to make sure the plane didn't leak fuel.
Greene said he thought there would be no problem with fuel leaking if the plane was retrieved quickly. It was pulled from the water within hours of the crash.
"There's only about 40 gallons of aviation fuel on board, though," he said. "It's not much worse than when a car goes into the drink."
St. Petersburg police spokesman Wendell Creager said the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.
Officials at Cecily's Flight Center refused comment Tuesday.