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Two rescued after plane crashes in Hillsborough Bay

TAMPA — Robert Kerrigan stood at the Davis Islands boat ramp Monday afternoon draped in a pink blanket, a bandage on his shin. Miles behind him, his wrecked single-engine plane lay submerged in Hillsborough Bay.

"There's really no story. It was pilot error," Kerrigan said. "I'm the responsible one."

Kerrigan, 60, a licensed pilot from Orlando, had launched the amphibious Sea Rey hours earlier from Peter O. Knight Airport. He was showing the plane to Eric Olinger, 50, of Tampa, who was interested in buying it.

Moments after they became airborne, the plane's landing gear hit the water and got pulled under. A pair of off-duty Hillsborough County firefighters, Harrison Hodges and Frank Leto, were fishing the bay from a boat and saw it go down. They then came to rescue Kerrigan and Olinger, taking them to the boat ramp, where they were met by paramedics.

"It's the only thing we caught today," Leto said.

Kerrigan took off in the plane about 11:30 a.m. He forgot to raise the landing gear as it glided over the water, he said.

"I was flying so low the landing gear touched the water and sucked us into the bay," he said.

Hodges, 29, and Leto, 31, were fly-fishing for redfish when Hodges saw what he thought looked like a boat moving through the water about a mile away. He gave it little thought until about 20 minutes later, when he looked again. He thought he saw the vessel sinking. Another plane circled above it.

They moved their Silver King flats boat to see what was happening and spotted Kerrigan and Hodges, clad in life vests, swimming toward an island.

Kerrigan and Olinger suffered "bumps and bruises," but were not seriously injured, Tampa police said.

About 1 p.m. Monday, a dive team was inspecting the mostly submerged plane, which was carrying about 8 gallons of fuel, said Tampa police Lt. Jack Diaz. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash.

The passengers were lucky to be unharmed, Diaz said.

"I would say they're very blessed to be standing here right now," he said.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.