CLEARWATER — Moments before a small airplane fell from the sky and plowed into a Clearwater mobile home park Thursday evening, the pilot made a panicked emergency radio call.
“Coming to Albert Whitted (Airport),” he said, according to a recording of the transmission. “I can’t see the other airport.”
Seconds passed, then the pilot spoke again.
“I’m losing engine,” said Jemin G. Patel, who was identified by authorities on Saturday. There came an indecipherable noise, then several seconds of silence before another pilot spoke.
“Oh, f--k,” the other pilot said. “Tampa (the plane) just hit the ground really hard. I see flames.”
The audio recording, which the Tampa Bay Times obtained through an archive on LiveATC.net, a website that compiles air traffic radio communications, illuminates the final minutes before and after the plane crashed into the Bayside Waters community, killing the pilot and two people on the ground.
Authorities also identified the other victims on Saturday. They were Martha Parry, 86, who Clearwater officials said lived at 2647 Pagoda Drive, the site of the plane crash; and Mary Ellen Pender, 54, of Treasure Island, who was visiting the mobile home.
Flight records indicate that the plane took off from Vero Beach a little after 6 p.m., about an hour before it crashed.
Why it went down, and precisely when the pilot began to have trouble, remained unclear Saturday. The crash happened amid clear skies, cool air and light winds. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.
Shortly after the plane went down, another pilot in the air said he would circle the area, according to the LiveATC audio.
“Tampa, it looks like there’s a structure fire down there,” he said. “It looks like he went into a building.”
A few minutes later, another pilot got on the radio and said the plane had crashed directly below him.
”It looks like it’s into a house,” he said. “I can’t really tell. And there’s still active flames down there and a lot of smoke coming from it. … He is definitely into a house. The whole house has just been demolished. … I just saw him going down at an extremely high rate of speed. Did not see any flames. Just saw (the plane) going down.”
Patel, 54, lived in Melbourne Beach. He held a commercial pilot’s license.
A woman who answered the phone Friday at a number listed for someone who shares an address with him in Melbourne Beach declined to comment to a reporter.
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Aviation records indicate that the plane, a Beechcraft Bonanza V35, was owned by Patel’s company, Control Data Inc.
The company is based in Indianapolis but also has a business presence in Florida, according to state corporation records. Patel directed an affiliated business, ProcurePort, which specialized in providing business procurement and payment processing software to companies and organizations, according to his LinkedIn page and the company’s website.
Federal Aviation Administration records show the plane is a single-engine fixed-wing aircraft manufactured in 1979. It was one of two planes registered to the Indiana company, along with a Cessna.
A record of the plane’s trip on FlightAware.com, a website that tracks air traffic around the world, showed it took off from the Vero Beach Regional Airport at about 6:08 p.m. Thursday, though it had been scheduled to depart 13 minutes earlier. The reason for the delayed takeoff is unclear.
The FlightAware track shows the plane flew west, reaching about 6,000 feet as it crossed Osceola, Polk and Hillsborough counties. It was scheduled to land at 6:49 p.m. at the Clearwater Air Park. But shortly after the plane flew over Old Tampa Bay, the flight track shows it turned northwest, then looped back south, passing the airport.
The plane’s tracking log shows it gradually descended, reaching about 600 feet above the ground four minutes before the crash. The pilot then appeared to be trying to regain altitude, reaching as high as 1,500 feet before the plane then rapidly descended again as it moved over U.S. 19.
At the time of impact, the plane was flying close to 140 mph.
Todd Scher, a spokesperson for the Vero Beach Regional Airport, where the plane took off, said Friday that Clearwater police contacted him. They wanted to know more about the plane, the pilot and the potential cause of the crash. Scher told the police to speak with management at Corporate Air Inc., an airport contractor responsible for the maintenance and fueling of some aircraft.
A spokesperson for Corporate Air Inc. said Friday that the company’s owner, Roger Pridgeon, did not want to comment. The spokesperson, who did not give their full name, said the company might respond to a request from the Times for the aircraft’s maintenance records, but had not yet provided them by Saturday morning.
According to its website, Corporate Air Inc. has more than 45 years of aviation experience, and more than 35 years at the Vero Beach airport. The company provides hangar space for aircraft, along with charter jet services.
The Beechcraft Bonanza V35 series is “the epitome of a cross-country flyer,” Flying Magazine wrote in December, and one that’s been in production since the late 1940s.
The planes, built decades ago, are still popular; the American Bonanza Society says it has 10,000 members. Concerns over the age of some airplane parts led Australia to temporarily ground all Beechcraft planes in 2012. The Federal Aviation Administration didn’t follow suit, though it did issue updated guidelines for maintenance and inspection.
Since 2010, at least 14 crashes involving Beechcraft V35 aircraft have cited partial or total engine failure as a “defining event” behind a crash, according to a National Transportation Safety Board database. Contributing factors include improper repairs and installations, adverse weather, fuel loss and pilot error.
About a half-dozen of those involved Beechcraft V35B planes, similar to the one involved in Thursday’s crash.