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Pilot who crashed in Wesley Chapel ignored signs of engine trouble, report says

The National Transportation Safety Board said witnesses heard engine trouble before Thomas Saxon took off on May 12. He crashed minutes later.

A Madeira Beach man who died last week when his single-engine plane crashed in a Wesley Chapel neighborhood had just aborted two attempts at takeoff because of signs of engine trouble, according to a preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Witnesses heard the same red flag — a rough sound as the engine reached full power — a third time when 61-year-old Thomas Saxon attempted his third takeoff on May 12, according to the report. That time, though, he went through with takeoff. He crashed minutes later.

Related: Pasco plane crash victim was skydiver, former Madeira Beach official

Saxon had flown his 1973 single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza from Clearwater Air Park to Tampa North Aero Park in Lutz earlier that morning without any problems, according to the report. Later in the morning, Saxon tried to return to Clearwater.

Witnesses told investigators that the plane’s engine sounded normal at first, the report said, but after Saxon taxied to the runway and pushed it to full power, it started making a strange sound. Saxon reduced power and taxied to another runway, where the same thing happened.

He returned to the first runway, and the engine again ran rough. Saxon took off nonetheless, barely clearing the trees at the end of the runway, witnesses told investigators. One of the witnesses radioed Saxon about the engine, according to the report.

“Ya, returning,” Saxon reportedly said. Then: “Going down.”

Then at about 11:30 a.m., Pasco Fire Rescue officials said they received reports that a plane crashed in the backyard of a vacant house in a Wesley Chapel subdivision, just a half-mile from the Tampa North Aero Park runway. The crash caused a fire that consumed most of the plane, according to the safety board’s report. Saxon was killed. No one else was injured.

A friend who had co-owned the plane with Saxon told the Tampa Bay Times that the pair had kept the plane in “excellent” condition, and that the plane had stayed on the ground for most of the last year because of ongoing maintenance.

Saxon, a skydiver and Marine veteran, served as a Madeira Beach city commissioner in the 1990s, according to Times archives, and had made a living running veterans centers across the southeast.