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With shutdown underway, it's 'undetermined' if FAA will investigate Brooksville copter fatality

"He was a good man. This is so tragic," Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis wrote on Facebook.
Hernando Sheriff’s deputies were at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport Thursday investigating a fatal on-the-ground aircraft accident. JACK EVANS | Time
Hernando Sheriff’s deputies were at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport Thursday investigating a fatal on-the-ground aircraft accident. JACK EVANS | Time
Published Jan. 14, 2019

BROOKSVILLE — The Federal Aviation Authority, hit by the ongoing government shutdown, said it has not decided whether it will be investigating the death of a Hudson man who was struck a spinning helicopter blade Thursday at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

Efforts to reach federal agencies that typically would look into an aviation fatality — the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board — were met Friday with automated messages about the shutdown.

But one FAA spokesman reached by the Tampa Bay Times, assistant communications administrator Gregory Martin, said it was "undetermined at this time" whether the agency will investigate.

According to FAA records, the victim — 62-year-old Salvatore Disi — held an airline transport pilot certification issued in February 2018. He was certified to pilot multi-engine airline planes and commercial helicopters and had a drone pilot certification. In 2002, he was certified as a flight instructor for single- and multi-engine planes. He also was certified in 2010 as an advanced ground instructor.

Disi died Thursday afternoon at the Brooksville airport when a helicopter blade struck him in the head, killing him instantly, according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

The incident was reported at about 3:35 p.m. near the airport's hangars. Disi and another man had been working on the helicopter, which appears to have been a 1993 Bell 230, according to federal records.

Deputies said the helicopter is owned by Dr. Alfred Bonati, chief orthopaedic surgeon and founder of The Bonati Spine Institute in Hudson.

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said in a Facebook post Thursday that Disi had been an acquaintance of his family for years.

"He was a good man. This is so tragic," Nienhuis said.

Several others wrote on Facebook of their experiences with Disi, recounting his gentle nature as a flight instructor.

The sheriff said Thursday his agency had notified the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The federal shutdown also was blamed when the Transportation Safety Board failed to send investigators to the scene of a fiery crash Jan. 3 on Interstate 75 north of Gainesville. Seven people were killed in the crash, including five children headed from Louisiana to Disney World in a church van.

Contact Justin Trombly at jtrombly@tampabay.com. Follow @JustinTrombly.

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