Debris field may hold clues to plane crash on New College campus

rdymond@bradenton.comJanuary 14, 2013 

SARASOTA -- Yellow police tape wrapped around a grassy field on the New College of Florida campus Sunday kept passersby from getting near the charred hunks of metal in the center.

A debris field of smoky, black metal was all that was left of a single engine Seawind 3000 airplane that crashed into the field 3:30 p.m. Saturday, just west of the Heiser Natural Sciences Building.

The fiery crash took the life of the pilot, John William Ardoyno, 70, of Hayward, Wis., according to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.

The passenger, a 63-year-old Michigan man, remained in critical condition Sunday in Tampa General's burn unit with second- and third-degree burns covering his body, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

NTSB officials, who are trying to piece together what happened, said the accident occurred just minutes after takeoff from the nearby Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

The experimental kit plane failed to gain altitude as it flew southwest of the airport, making it across U.S. 41 and just barely over the Heiser Sciences Building.

"According to the NTSB, the plan clipped a pine tree just west of the Heiser Building, spun and hit a second tree," said Jake Hartvigsen, a New College of Florida spokesman.

"There is speculation that the pilot was trying to land in the grassy field, which is a drainage field," Hartvigsen said.

Downed pine tree branches near the Heiser Building and one burned and blackened tall pine tree just west may tell the millisecond-by-millisecond story of the crash.

There were no people in the grassy field or on the nearby walkways when the plane finally dropped, according to the sheriff's office.

"It looks like it hit the first tree and then just started losing parts," said Alicia Hall of Bradenton, one of scores of people who came to the crash site Sunday to study the debris field and try for themselves to figure out what happened.

"We don't know yet what the flight plan was or how much fuel they had," Hartvigsen said. "I can say I researched this plane after the crash and discovered this was a very small plane with a tiny cockpit."

NTSB officials studied the wreckage for two hours early Sunday and plan to remove the wreckage of the plane Monday morning, Hartvigsen said.

New College had roughly two-thirds of its 800 students away from campus at the time of the crash due to the January independent study period. The college has determined it is safe to open offices and hold classes Monday, Hartvigsen added.

"The plane was not using jet fuel, but rather gasoline or diesel," Hartvigsen said when asked about dangers.

NTSB officials also said there are no hazardous chemicals that would be a danger to students and staff once the aircraft is removed.

On Sunday, one person from the neighborhood left flowers by the yellow tape.

"It's terrible," said Hall, who was working at the nearby Ringling Museum at the time of the crash. "The worst thing are the rumors. We heard that the pilot was screaming for help. I pray that wasn't true."

Officer Chris Rivett of the New College of Florida police couldn't confirm or deny the rumor that the pilot was trapped in the burning cockpit of the plane Sunday. He said that when he arrived at the crash scene moments after it occurred the pilot was already deceased.

Rivett was told by a eyewitness that the passenger was able to scramble from the plane and was airlifted to the hospital.

Hartvigsen said he has also heard both accounts, that the pilot was deceased on impact and that the pilot survived the crash but died from his injuries.

Hall talked with Bradenton's Laura Parker.

"It's frightening when you think that a matter of seconds is all that separated the plane from landing in this field and instead hitting the Sciences Building and the greenhouse attached to it," Parker said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686 or tweet @RichardDymond.

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