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Lake Keystone pilot killed in Hernando County plane crash

A Cessna 206 amphibian plane crashed in the backyard of a residence at 13088 Little Farms Drive in Spring Hill on Friday morning, according to authorities. [Photo courtesy of Hernando County government]
A Cessna 206 amphibian plane crashed in the backyard of a residence at 13088 Little Farms Drive in Spring Hill on Friday morning, according to authorities. [Photo courtesy of Hernando County government]
Published Sep. 19, 2015

SPRING HILL — Rob Gomez heard the plane struggle to stay aloft overhead. Seconds later he heard it crash into a back yard two houses down. He ran to the wreckage to try to rescue somebody.

But he couldn't find anybody to save.

That's because the body of the pilot was still encased in the mangled airframe of the 1971 Cessna 206 amphibious plane that crashed Friday morning in the back yard of 13088 Little Farms Drive, according to sheriff's officials.

The pilot, Gary Cohen, 56, of Odessa, was the sole occupant.

When Gomez, 47, got to the crash scene, fuel was leaking from the wing tanks. Fear of fire kept him from digging through the wreckage in search of survivors.

The crash took place around 9 a.m. Soon firefighters arrived and covered the plane in fire-retardant foam. Nearby homes were temporarily evacuated. Nobody on the ground was injured.

"We unfortunately found a pretty horrific crash," Hernando County Sheriff Al Neinhuis said. "It's hardly recognizable as an airplane."

Cohen had filed a flight plan with the Federal Aviation Administration to depart Lake Keystone Seaplane Base in northwest Hillsborough County at 8:40 a.m. He was supposed to arrive at Orlando Executive Airport at 9:20 a.m.

But according to data from flightaware.com, instead of flying northeast toward Orlando, the plane veered northwest over Hernando County after takeoff. Then it turned east.

Neinhuis said the pilot was attempting to land at nearby Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport but didn't make it. Cohen had been in contact with the Hernando airport control tower before the crash. It was unknown if Cohen had declared an emergency.

It was his second flight Friday morning, according to FAA records. Earlier, Cohen had flown from Page Field near Fort Myers to Lake Keystone.

The plane crashed almost 2 miles from where Spring Hill Drive meets the Suncoast Parkway, just a few blocks from J.D. Floyd K-8 School. Officials with the school district said classes were not interrupted.

Weather "was not an obvious contributor," to the crash, the sheriff said. It was sunny with cottonball clouds Friday morning. No storms were in the area.

The FAA arrived Friday afternoon. National Transportation Safety Board representatives were en route to conduct the crash investigation. NTSB officials will spend two to three days examining the crash site and interviewing witnesses, said spokesman Terry Williams.

They will also examine the engine, airframe, maintenance records, pilot records, weather conditions, tower communication recordings and other data to try to determine a cause for the crash. Investigations typically take about a year to complete, Williams said.

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Cohen, who was executive director of the National Association of Specialty Pharmacy, was involved in a protracted dispute with Lake Keystone neighbors ( tbtim.es/onu) over the noise of his plane, which was worth $200,000 to $300,000.

His family did not return requests for comment.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.

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