1. News

Pilot dies in single-engine plane crash at St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport

ST. PETERSBURG — One man died and another was injured Wednesday when the single-engine plane they were flying took a nose-dive into a runway at Albert Whitted Airport.

James Allen Finnegan, 79, was piloting the 1947 Luscombe model 8A when the two-seat aircraft crashed at 1:52 p.m., shortly after taking off, authorities said. Finnegan owned the plane, but had not flown in several years and was taking a refresher training course from James Patrick Murphy, a certified flight instructor.

The plane reached an altitude between 50 and 100 feet over the westbound runway before diving straight down, authorities said.

Finnegan died in the crash. Murphy, 37, was taken to Bayfront Medical Center for treatment of injuries that were not considered life threatening, St. Petersburg police said. He could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.

Melissa Boulineau, general manager at the nearby Hangar Restaurant, saw the plane take off, ascending a few feet in the air before touching down, then rising again.

The aircraft's engine might have stalled or lost power, Boulineau said. The crash smashed the front end back into the cockpit area.

"It was just a weird sound, a weird noise," said Cody Mizowek, 18, of St. Petersburg, who was skateboarding nearby when the plane crashed. "It sounded like sputtering.''

Murphy jumped out of the plane after the crash and tried to pull Finnegan out, witnesses said. The pilot was unconscious and bleeding as two airport mechanics also came to his aid.

A woman who answered the door at Finnegan's home in St. Petersburg said his family did not want to comment.

It was not clear Wednesday what brought the plane down. Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration requested that authorities restrict access to the crash site until this morning for further examination. Finnegan's cause of death was also under investigation.