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Pilot learns lesson: Check the fuel gauge

British tourist Stephan Collins flies small planes as a hobby. He'd been flying around Pinellas County for hours Friday when he realized he'd made a little mistake.

He had run out of gas.

Collins couldn't make it to a proper landing strip. He was going down, and he needed a flat field or an empty road.

Luckily for him, he came across what is possibly the largest vacant lot in the southern half of the county: the site of the old Toytown dump.

Collins, 30, of Andover, England, brought his rented Cessna two-seater down for a bumpy but safe landing in a field on top of buried garbage, just east of Interstate 275. He and the plane were undamaged.

"He's lucky," said Pinellas Park Fire Lt. Ed Burgess, one of the firefighters who drove around the fenced, 240-acre landfill, searching for the downed plane.

"We tried to gain access at three different points, and couldn't get in," Burgess said.

Fire trucks and sheriff's deputies finally got to the plane by following a narrow dirt track through a gate hidden in woods behind a business park at I-275 and Gandy Boulevard.

Collins, who is on vacation and who has a pilot's license, rented a single-propeller Cessna 152 from Suncoast Flying Services at the Clearwater Air Park, according to the FAA and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

"He had been flying the aircraft all day," said sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha. "He apparently told deputies he had miscalculated the number of hours and the gas that he had on hand."

Collins declined to speak to a reporter.

He landed the plane shortly after 3:30 p.m., only a couple hundred feet from I-275, about midway between Gandy and Roosevelt boulevards.

Suncoast Flying Services soon brought cans of fuel in a helicopter.

Employees checked over the plane and refueled it before one of them flew it out of the field and back to Clearwater Air Park.

The old Toytown landfill was where the county dumped its garbage from the 1960s until it closed in 1983 and was covered with dirt.

_ Times staff writer Jean Heller contributed to this report.

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