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Plane skids off runway; pilot unhurt

The engine of the Cessna 210 cut out just as Jim Gummels took off toward Tampa Bay, so he tried to land safely on the last inches of runway at Albert Whitted Municipal Airport.

Gummels, a veteran pilot, nearly made it. Instead, the fixed-wing, single-engine plane skidded into the chilly water about 5 p.m. Tuesday.

"The plane was sinking," said Gummels, who stood shivering and wrapped in a blue police blanket outside the U.S. Coast Guard boathouse. "I got the door right open and I got right out."

Gummels was uninjured, so he was able to hoist himself up on the wing until a nearby fisherman motored over. Soon after, a U.S. Coast Guard rescue boat arrived to take Gummels to shore.

Gummels is the second pilot in five days to experience airplane trouble and slide off an Albert Whitted runway into the water. During a storm Friday, another single-engine plane slid into the water. Neither the pilot nor the passenger was hurt.

Gummels, 41, works for Tampa-based Red Baron Aviation, which is owned by Gallops, Inc. Red Baron delivers medical supplies, small packages, animals and checks for banks. Efforts to reach the owners Tuesday night were unsuccessful.

In the past several years, two other planes registered to Gallops have been involved in widely publicized incidents. In January, a Cessna 206 lost power, flew under a bridge and landed in the Hillsborough River. In November 1993, a Cessna 206 landed in Tampa Bay near the Gandy Bridge after its engine failed. No one was injured in either of those flights.

Tuesday, Gummels said he made three runs between Fort Myers and St. Petersburg to deliver bank supplies. When he took off from Albert Whitted, he was done for the day.

Without warning, the engine went silent. Gummels tried to land on runway No. 6, but he ran out of space and crashed.

As soon as John Keyton, 28, pulled up in a 15-foot fishing boat, Gummels swam toward him.

"He waved that he was all right," said Keyton, who works for the Times packaging department. "He seemed sort of shocked but pretty calm."

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash. The plane sunk so fast that even 30 minutes after the crash investigators were having trouble finding it and asked a television helicopter crew circling overhead for assistance.

Despite the excitement, Gummels said he wanted to go back to work as soon as possible.

"I'm a survivor," he said.

_ Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report, and information from Times files also was used.

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