1 dead, 1 injured in plane crash near Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport

ejohnson@bradenton.comJanuary 13, 2013 

SARASOTA -- Steven and Tonya Shivers were driving north on U.S. 41 Saturday afternoon when they saw a small plane flying low and heading toward the New College of Florida campus.

The couple turned into the school, saw the plane clip a tree and erupt in flames before crashing to the ground behind the R.V. Heiser Natural Science Complex. Smoke billowed from the area as firefighters extinguished the flames, leaving behind a heap of charred metal.

Two men took off about 3:30 p.m. from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in the home-built Seawind 3000. The single-engine amphibian plane crossed U.S. 41, but went down just across the street from the end of the runway.

"I've never seen a plane fly that low," said Steven Shivers, of Manatee County. "We saw a guy running out of the plane. I couldn't believe it."

About five or six witnesses helped the man, keeping him alert. Tonya Shivers gave him a bottle of water.

Steven Shivers said he had four lacerations on his forehead. His shoes and shirt were gone. His shorts were melted; the skin on his hands and feet burned.

"I can't believe he walked out, melted like that," said Steven Shivers, adding that the man was calm and never screamed. "That will be something I won't get out of my head for a long time."

The survivor is a 63-year-old man from Michigan, said Capt. Susan Pearson, spokeswoman for the Sarasota Fire Department.

He was airlifted from the scene and taken to the burn unit at Tampa General Hospital.

"He sustained second- and third-degree burns over most of his body, but he was conscious and is in critical condition," Pearson said.

The pilot was dead when responders arrived on scene. Sunday, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office identified the pilot as John William Ardoyno, 70, of Hayward, Wisc.

"Another man saw the pilot. He was yelling, 'Help me. Help me,'" Shivers said. "There were flames all around him. The man couldn't get to him."

Bill Sommers, who lives two streets away from where the plane crashed, said he heard a pop early on and noticed the pilot must have been struggling.

"As soon as I saw it take off I knew it wasn't good," Sommers said. "He had to bank and it looked like he was coming into our neighborhood."

Sommers' wife called 911. He grabbed his daughter and prepared to run out of the plane's path. When the plane avoided their home, Sommers drove over to the college.

"I walked around it but it was already hot and on fire," Sommers said. "It went up like a Christmas tree would. When I got here, rescue was already arriving. They were really quick."

No one is sure where the plane was going. Fredrick J. Piccolo, president and CEO of the airport, said he doesn't believe a flight plan was filed.

"I think they were just flying locally," Piccolo said. "My understanding is they just had trouble with the engine. It wasn't getting lift."

The National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the scene at 8:30 a.m. Sunday to investigate the cause of the crash.

NTSB officials plan to remove the plane’s wreckage from the New College campus on Monday morning. Along with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration, the NTSB said there are no hazardous chemicals or other impacts from the crash that would be of danger to students and staff at the College once the wreckage is removed. Until that time, however, New College Police have cordoned off the area and are asking all students and staff to remain clear while the cleanup takes place, New College announced in a press release. Based upon the recommendations of the NTSB and Federal Aviation Administration, New College administration has determined that it is safe to conduct business on Monday, and all ISP classes and other events will continue as scheduled. All campus offices will be open for normal business as well.

Anyone with information about the crash is encouraged to call the Criminal Investigations Section at 941-861-4900 or leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by calling 941-366-TIPS (8477), online at www.sarasotacrimestoppers.com.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.

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