METERcomments before a crashed private plane On a highway in Florida, the pilot calmly told an airport controller that the plane “wasn’t going to make it to the runway” because it had lost both engines.
The plane, with five people on board, was headed to Naples Airport when it attempted to make an emergency landing on Interstate 75 Friday afternoon. But witnesses say it collided with a vehicle – the plane’s wing dragged a car before crashing into a wall. An explosion followed, with flames and black smoke rising from the scene.
Two people died, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, but it was not immediately known if the victims were passengers on the plane or on the ground.
Federal authorities have launched an investigation into the crash near Naples, just north of where the interstate heads east toward Fort Lauderdale along what is known as Alligator Alley. A National Transportation Safety Board investigator arrived at the crash site Friday afternoon, and several more are expected to arrive Saturday.
The plane had taken off from an Ohio State University airport in Columbus, Ohio, around 1 p.m. It was scheduled to land in Naples around the time of the crash, Naples Airport Authority spokesman Robin King said, when the pilot contacted the tower requesting an emergency landing.
“I got it. Emergency. Clear to land. Runway. Two. Three,” the air traffic controller responded to the pilot, in an audio obtained by The Associated Press.
“We have permission to land but we will not reach the runway. We have lost both engines,” the pilot responded calmly.
The tower lost contact and then airport workers saw smoke from the interstate just a few miles away, King said.
King said fire trucks with special foam were sent to the scene and three of the five people on board were pulled alive from the rubble.
Brianna Walker watched as the plane’s wing dragged the car in front of hers and it crashed into the wall.
“There are seconds that separated us from the car in front of us,” he said. “The wing pulverized this car.”
Walker and her friend saw the plane moments before it hit the freeway, allowing her friend to stop before the crash.
“The plane was inches from our heads,” he said. “He turned sharply to the right and skidded down the road.”
According to aircraft tracker FlightAware, the plane was operated by Hop-a-Jet Worldwide Charter based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The plane was scheduled to return to Fort Lauderdale on Friday afternoon.
Hop-a-Jet said Friday night that it had “received confirmed reports of an accident involving one of our chartered aircraft near Naples” and that it would send a team to the crash site, it said Friday. Naples daily news reported.
“Our immediate concern is the well-being of our passengers, crew members and their families,” the statement said. It did not contain details of the accident.
An Ohio State University spokesperson said the plane is not affiliated with the university and they had no further information about it.
Federal authorities said a preliminary report on the cause of the crash is expected in 30 days.