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Texas family among dead in crash of plane bound for St. Petersburg

Damage is seen to a hangar after a twin-engine plane crashed into the building at Addison Airport in Addison, Texas, Sunday. The small airplane crashed as it was taking off from the Dallas-area airport Sunday morning, a spokeswoman for the town of Addison, Texas, said. [Shaban Athuman/The Dallas Morning News via AP]
Published Jul. 1

A family of four from a suburb north of Dallas were among the passengers on a St. Petersburg-bound plane that crashed Sunday in Texas, killing all 10 people on board.

It appears they had some ties to Pinellas County, according to public records.

So far, seven of the ten victims have been identified by news reports. They include high school students Dylan Maritato, 13, and sister Alice, 15; their mother Ornella Ellard, 45, and stepfather Brian Ellard, 52; Steve Thelen, 58, and wife Gina; and Matthew Palmer, 27. The identities of two crew members and one passenger had not been released as of Monday evening.

Brian Ellard's brother, Joe Chad Ellard, owns a waterfront home in St. Pete Beach, according to public records. Joe Chad Ellard splits his time between Dallas and St. Petersburg, his personal website said.

Neighbors told WTSP-Ch. 10 the Ellards owned a yacht and loved to visit the St. Petersburg area on holidays, spending their time on the water. They speculated the family had planned a visit for the Fourth of July holiday. Ornella Ellard was an interior designer and Brian Ellard owned an art gallery and an upscale Italian restaurant in the Dallas area, according to the Dallas Morning News.

The plane was scheduled to fly on Sunday to Albert Whitted Airport in downtown St. Petersburg. Instead, the twin-engine Beechcraft BE-350 King Air crashed into an unoccupied hangar at the Addison Municipal Airport at 10:11 a.m. EST, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Edward Martelle, a spokesman for the town of Addison, Tex., said the private plane was leaving the airport and veered into the hangar before bursting into flames. Firefighters quickly extinguished the fire. No one on the ground was injured, authorities said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. The plane was not equipped with a flight data recorder, but investigators said Monday they recovered a cockpit voice recorder. It expects to release a preliminary cause of the crash in about two weeks.

The plane changed hands in recent months. Planemasters, a Chicago jet charter, told the Tampa Bay Times it recently sold the plane to an Addison company called EE Operations LLC.

According to a June 21 page on Planemasters' website, the plane has nine seats and was built in 2017. It has a range of 1,800 miles, can go up to 360 mph and the rental cost started at $1,800 an hour. Photos of the interior show two lines of tan seats with an aisle cutting between them.

"Awful news about this plane enroute to St. Pete," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted Sunday night. "My thoughts are with the families of the deceased."

An aircraft of that size coming through Albert Whitted is infrequent but not unheard of, said airport manager Richard Lesniak. About 85 percent of the airport's air traffic consists of single-engine planes. Double-engine planes, such as the one involved in the crash, make up about 12 percent.

"It's at the larger end of the scale of what we would see here," Lesniak said, "but it's very common to see King Airs in and out of here."

Witnesses who saw the small plane crash told Dallas media it struggled on takeoff and appeared to lose power.

David Snell, who was getting ready to fly from Addison with a friend Sunday morning, told KDFW TV that the plane didn't sound right on takeoff.

"It looked like it was clearly reduced power," Snell told the station. "I didn't know if it was on purpose or not, but then, when the plane started to veer to the left, and you could tell it couldn't climb. My friend and I looked at each other and we're like, 'Oh my God. They're going to crash.'"

Peter Drake says he saw the plane crash into the hangar.

The plane "got onto the runway, went down the runway, started taking off. He got to about 200 feet, and I saw him starting to lose power and his altitude, and then I see him just roll over and came straight down right into the building," Drake said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Times reporters John Martin, Kathryn Varn and Tony Marrero contributed to this report.

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