March 15, 2013

Three dead in plane crash at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport

The Piper tried to turn back, but crashed in a warehouse parking lot, leaving the smoking hulls of seven burned vehicles and a boat. No one was injured on the ground.

A twin engine airplane crashed near Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport Friday afternoon, killing all three people on board.

Witnesses said the Piper smashed into a warehouse parking lot shortly after 4 p.m., destroying seven vehicles and a boat.

Television pictures showed the wreckage of burned out hulls of vehicles and a pile of twisted metal in the middle of the vehicles.

“The plane is in pieces,” said Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Division Chief John San Angelo.

No one on the ground was injured, he said, and the names of the victims on the plane were being withheld, pending notification of kin.

Television reports said the men may have been pilots taking the plane out from Fort Lauderdale Executive for avionics checks.

The small twin-prop Piper airplane left the airport shortly after 4 p.m. and appeared to have developed trouble soon after takeoff, San Angelo said.

It tried to turn back to the airport but didn’t make it, and clipped a tree before crashing in the parking lot of a flooring warehouse near Powerline Road and 53rd Street.

The airport did not receive any distress call from the plane before it crashed, said Shannon Vezina, spokesperson for the City of Fort Lauderdale.

Witnesses said they saw smoke billowing from the wreckage for miles around.

John Strasswimmer, a Delray Beach surgeon, was driving south on Interstate 95 near Powerline Road when he saw a plane spiraling out of control in the air. He quickly pulled over to the side of the interstate.

“My heart sank,” he said. “It was devastating.”

A block away, Rick Blackburn was working on a race car with some colleagues at the South Florida Custom and Collision Center when they saw the plane bank on its side in the air.

“We heard a pop, and then bam! It hit the ground,” he said.

They jumped in a pickup truck and drove to the crash site, but Blackburn said he knew they couldn’t help when they looked at the burning wreckage.

“At first you go there thinking you may be able to help somebody,” he said. “But once you got there, you knew there was nothing you could do.”

The intense heat blew out nearby windows.

Ebbey Davis, who rode with him, said people were scrambling to get vehicles out of the lot before they caught fire.

It took 40 firefighters about 30 minutes to put out the flames, said Matt Little, spokesman for Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue.

“It’s not just the plane in flames,” he said. “It’s seven cars and a boat, and all the fuel that’s involved.”

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