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Plane Crash in St Lucie County Kills 2, Injures 1

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  • xlonghillfd

    2nd passenger dies from St. Lucie plane crash

    By staff report
    September 26, 2003

    ST. LUCIE COUNTY — A second passenger has died from injuries received after a twin-engine seaplane crashed into woods east of Interstate 95 Thursday afternoon, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

    John Anderson, 56, of Lakeland, was flown in critical condition to Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne, where he died overnight. Albert H. Schaaf, 56, of Richmond, Calif. was pronounced dead at the scene Thursday.

    The pilot and owner of the plane, John W. Russell, 53, was injured in the crash and taken by ambulance to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute.

    "He is in good condition," said Beth Tuttle, a hospital spokeswoman Friday.

    Russell declined to be interviewed prior to taking with the Federal Aviation Administration, she said.

    An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the scene Friday morning to begin evaluating the crash, said Southeast Regional Director Jeff Kennedy of the NTSB office in Miami.

    The 60-foot-long Grumman Albatross crashed around 1:26 p.m. about three miles northwest of the St. Lucie County International Airport, just north of Indrio Road. The plane took off from the airport and was scheduled to return without stopping.

    Russell told the Sheriff’s Office that the plane had experienced engine trouble.

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  • Plane Crash in St Lucie County Kills 2, Injures 1

    Crash kills 1, injures 2
    Plane went down a quarter-mile north of Indrio Road in Fort Pierce

    By Derek Simmonsen and Mark Pollio staff writers
    September 26, 2003

    ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- A dual-engine seaplane on a training flight crashed into woods east of Interstate 95 Thursday afternoon, killing one man and injuring two others aboard.

    The 60-foot-long Grumman Albatross crashed around 1:26 p.m. about three miles northwest of the St. Lucie County International Airport, said Christopher White, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman.

    The plane had taken off from the airport and was scheduled to return without stopping, White said. Instead, the plane crashed into a row of Australian pine trees north of Indrio Road near about 100 commercial beehives.

    Beekeepers assisted the Sheriff's Office in using smoke to calm down the bees and allow rescue workers to get close the plane. One deputy who was not wearing protective gear was stung several times, but was not seriously hurt, said Mark Weinberg, a Sheriff's Office spokesman.

    The pilot told deputies that he had engine trouble, Weinberg said.

    One passenger was pronounced dead by rescue workers at the site, said Battalion Chief Carlos Duran, a St. Lucie County Fire District spokesman. He was extricated from the plane around 2:12 p.m., Duran said.

    The pilot suffered serious injuries and was taken by ambulance to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center & Heart Institute. He was able to walk to Indrio Road from the crash, Weinberg said. A second passenger in the plane was critically injured and flown by Air Rescue 1 to an area trauma center.

    The plane's occupants were on an exercise flight when the crash took place, said John Stephenson, Mirabella Yachts Aviation Division Chief Pilot. The plane had been stored part-time with Mirabella at the St. Lucie County airport for the past year, Stephenson said.

    The plane's owner, John Russell, was on board and survived the crash, Stephenson said. It was not known if he was flying the plane. The three men in the plane were not local residents, Weinberg said.

    Officials from the U.S. Customs Service were at the scene, but declined to comment.

    The FAA has investigators en route from Atlanta to the crash site, but the National Transportation Safety Board is the main investigating agency, White said.

    The NTSB is sending investigators from its Orlando and Atlanta offices, said Southeast Regional Director Jeff Kennedy of the NTSB's Miami office. They will inspect the site today, he said.

    The inspectors will survey the plane and where it crashed, determine how fast it was going and see at what angle it struck the ground. They will also look at the airplane to see if there were any obvious problems that contributed to the crash, inspect all flight controls on the plane and order an examination of the engines, Kennedy said.

    "Our investigators will also interview the survivors to see what they remembered from the crash," he said.


    Insurance agent Larry Lee Jr. was driving west on Indrio Road to meet a client when he saw the amphibious plane flying low overhead.

    "It was less than 100 feet off the ground," said Lee, 49, of Fort Pierce. "It just flew right over our heads."

    The plane disappeared behind a range of trees and he pulled over to the side of the road to see what happened. Another person who had pulled over told him the plane had crashed.

    Lee went into the field to see if he could help, and saw several other people in the area who had witnessed the plane go down.

    "By the time we got there, four other guys were already there," Lee said.

    He called 9-1-1 and was told someone else had already reported the crash. By this time, there were bees swarming all around the area. Lee -- who is allergic to bees -- became wary, but several other people helped out, he said.

    One of the passengers had broken legs and the other looked deceased, Lee said. The pilot was cut in several places, he said.

    A young man -- wearing just a pair of shorts -- put a towel around his head and went in to the woods to help, Lee said. The young man helped the pilot get out of the plane and was "stung all over" afterward, Lee said.

    Ronnie Lord, who lives near I-95, said he saw the plane flying low overhead and it looked like one engine was out.

    "I knew he was having trouble because he was going really slow," Lord said.

    Rebecca Abbott told deputies that she was east on Indrio Road when she saw the plane heading west, parallel to the road, according to a Sheriff's Office report. The plane appeared to be tilting and the right propeller did not look as if it was turning, said Abbott, 46, of Vero Beach.

    It looked like it was trying to reach an open field on the north end of Indrio Road, she told deputies.


    The Grumman Albatross plane that crashed had the word "BuccanAer" on its side.

    Russell's company -- BuccanAer Amphibian Adventure Limited -- was formed in January 1999, after he retired as captain for British Airways, according to his Web site. He spent 30 years with British Airways, flying more than 12,000 hours without logging any accidents, the site states.

    He completed an extensive training course in flying the aircraft, according to the Web site. The plane is about 60 feet long and 24 feet high, with a wing span of about 80 feet, the site stated.

    Albatross planes were originally built for the military and used mostly in the 1950s and '60s during the Korean and Vietnam wars, Stephenson said. The few that remain today have been restored and are privately owned, he said.

    Mirabella stores three Albatross aircraft, including one of its own, Stephenson said.

    Before coming to Florida, the plane spent more than two years in Carson City, Nev., undergoing restoration, said Dennis Buehn , owner of American Warbirds, an ex-military airplane restoration company. It was painted and restored then.

    The plane, a former U.S. Navy aircraft, was taken to Florida a year ago, Buehn said.

    Russell told Buehn he wanted to start an air adventure company and planned to fly it to the Caribbean.

    "I've spoken to him a few times since he left here last year," Buehn said. "He has a lot of friends back here that hope he'll be all right."

    - [email protected]; [email protected]

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