Pilot dies in single-engine plane crash at St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport — (Tampa Bay Times)

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Tampa Bay Times

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 3:05p

Times staff

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.


To view National Transportation Safety Board Accident Report click here

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA491
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, August 01, 2012 in St. Petersburg, FL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 01/13/2014
Aircraft: SILVAIRE LUSCOMBE 8A, registration: N2761K
Injuries: 1 Fatal,1 Serious.

On August 1, 2012, approximately 1400 eastern daylight time, a Luscombe 8A, N2761K, was substantially damaged when it impacted the ground when control was lost during takeoff from Albert Whitted Airport (SPG), St. Petersburg, Florida. The private pilot/owner was fatally injured, and the flight instructor sustained serious injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which was originating at the time of the accident. The instructional flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

The flight instructor was interviewed following the accident, and also provided a written statement recounting the events of the accident flight. He stated that a preflight inspection of the airplane revealed no anomalies, and the engine start and pre-takeoff checks were performed with no discrepancies noted. The fuel tank was filled to capacity, containing 14 gallons of fuel. The flight was cleared for takeoff from runway 25 at the intersection with taxiway B, with the owner conducting the takeoff. The flight instructor reported that the carburetor heat control was in the off position for “maximum takeoff power,” and that the engine was producing full power during the takeoff roll until it reached an altitude around 100 feet above ground level. Shortly thereafter, the flight instructor noted an audible loss of power that was confirmed by the tachometer, which varied from 1,800 to 2,100 rpm. He stated that the engine seemed to “roll back,” and did not sputter or run rough. The airplane began to descend, the pilot/owner applied carburetor heat, and the flight instructor assumed control of the airplane. With insufficient runway remaining on which to land, and the presence of obstacles at the end of the runway straight ahead, the flight instructor attempted to maneuver the airplane towards the ramp to the south of the runway. The airplane subsequently impacted the runway in a nose-down attitude, and came to rest inverted. The flight instructor stated that he attempted to turn the fuel selector valve to the off position prior to egressing the airplane, but could not remember if he had successfully done so. The flight instructor then egressed, and assisted in extricating the pilot/owner from the wreckage.

Four witnesses observed the airplane as it was taking off. They all recounted that the airplane reached an altitude between 20-40 feet, before the engine began to “sputter” and “miss.” One witness described the airplane rocking from side to side, at a slow airspeed, prior to making a “sharp” left turn, descending nose-first, and impacting the runway.

Although the airplane held a standard airworthiness certificate, it met the definition of a Light Sport Aircraft as contained in Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1.1, making it eligible for operation by a pilot holding a valid drivers’ license in lieu of an FAA-issued medical certificate.

Toxicological testing was performed on the pilot/owner by the FAA Bioaeronautical Science Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Review of the toxicological report revealed that Carvedilol was detected in the liver and blood, Citalopram was detected in the liver and blood, N-Desmethylcitalopram was detected in the liver and blood, and Tamsulosin was detected in the urine and blood.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The flight instructor’s and the pilot’s failure to maintain airspeed after a partial loss of engine power after takeoff for reasons that could not be determined during postaccident examination, which resulted in an aerodynamic stall and loss of airplane control. Contributing to the accident were the pilots’ decisions to operate the airplane above its maximum allowable gross weight and to perform an intersection takeoff.