Had the Piper Tomahawk been somewhat higher than 350 feet, John Morris and Joseph Schrage might have had a different kind of landing.
Instead, Morris, an instructor pilot, and Schrage, his student, found themselves gliding into Tampa Bay about 500 yards east of The Pier shortly after takeoff, Schrage said.
Both were injured in the Saturday crash, which left the plane at the bottom of Tampa Bay.
On Monday, no one knew why the engine had problems.
"We didn't nose-dive or spiral in," Schrage said from his Bayfront Medical Center bed Monday. "In my opinion, he (John) did a fine job."
Schrage, a 28-year-old lender at SunBank, was in good condition Monday. Morris was in serious condition in the intensive care unit at Bayfront with facial and other injuries.
National Transportation Safety Board members were investigating the accident Monday. NTSB investigator Jeff Kennedy said his office was waiting for the plane's owner and insurance company to bring the wreckage to the surface.
The flight early Saturday was supposed to be Schrage's fourth lesson with the Sunshine Flying Club, which operates out of Albert Whitted Municipal Airport near downtown.
Club officials would not comment Monday. The person who answered the phone and did not identify himself said the company had not found the plane in the water. He added that the search from boats would continue until the plane was found.
On Saturday, Morris and Schrage planned to go up for an hour and return to the airport. They left Albert Whitted's runway between 8:45 and 9 a.m.
"We took off and weren't up but a minute and we lost power somehow," Schrage said.
"As soon as the first hint of a power problem, John took over the flight," Schrage said. "We lost more power and he just concentrated on keeping the plane level."
The two men were 300 to 350 feet in the air. At some point, Morris got control of the airplane, Schrage said. The pilot never let the airplane fall below stall speed.
But because the plane has fixed landing gear, it didn't simply glide to a stop on the water. "The (gear) drove the nose into the water," Schrage said.
If the plane had been higher, the pilot would have had a better chance of gliding back to the airport, Schrage said.
Neither man was unconscious and both climbed out of the plane before it sank to the bottom. Several boats, including a crab boat and a Coast Guard ship, showed up within minutes to save the two men, Schrage said.
Once NTSB officials have compiled a report on the accident, they will forward that report to the NTSB in Washington, D.C. Kennedy said he didn't know when the investigation would be completed.