TAMPA ― A single-engine plane lost power Monday while flying over the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, forcing the pilot to make a “hard landing” in an empty field, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Chad Chronister said the pilot, a veteran instructor, brought the plane down between subdivisions and a busy toll road and avoided hurting himself or anyone below.
This was the first flight for the Cessna 172R after undergoing “major maintenance,” the sheriff said.
“I think we all should be grateful as rush hour traffic was starting in the area that it was this pilot flying the plane,” Chronister said at a news conference near the landing site, an empty field across from 2210 U.S. 301 S.
The pilot was identified as David Presnell, a flight instructor with Atlas Aviation, a flight training school. The incident started just after 3 p.m. when the plane took off from Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands. About five minutes later and six miles from the airport, trouble started.
“He wasn’t even up in the air for five minutes when he started experiencing a drop in engine (revolutions per minute),” Chronister said. “That immediately went to no engine power ― engine failure. He immediately knew and recognized that he wouldn’t be able to make it back to Peter O. Knight.”
The pilot noticed a vacant parcel to the southwest corner of where U.S. 301 intersects with the expressway. He used a flag flying off a cell phone tower as a windsock to help him judge wind speed and direction. Then he landed the Cessna and hit the brakes “as hard as he could," the sheriff said.
A nearby business saw the plane flying low, without engine power, and called the authorities.
The pilot has been flying since 1992 and has been a flight instructor for the past 4½ years, the sheriff said.