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Polk County man dies in plane crash in N. Manatee

MANATEE - A 52-year-old Polk County man was killed when an ultralight aircraft crashed this afternoon near Airport Manatee in the northern part of the county.

Manatee County sheriff's officials said Karl Keith of Kathleen died when the blue and white 2002 Challenger he was piloting crashed in a wooded area near a tomato field southwest of the airport, which is off U.S. 41 near Port Manatee.

Randy Warren, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, said Keith was test flying the plane because he was considering buying it from the owner, who is from Tampa and kept the craft at Airport Manatee.

The crash happened about 2:20 p.m. A Manatee County sheriff's deputy on routine patrol saw the plane make a loop before maybe losing power, taking a dive and hitting the ground. The crash sparked an explosion and fire, according to Warren.

The ultralight went down in a wooded area, taking out two rows of tomato vines planted in a field. The crash site is about 3/4 of a mile from the Airport Manatee runway, deputies said.

According to the Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) Web site, ultralights are one-seat, light-weight aircraft with small engines and fuel capacity. Warren said pilots do not need a license to fly the craft.

Warren said the Federal Aviation Administration would be investigating the crash.

Airport Manatee is located seven miles northeast of Palmetto, near the Manatee-Hillsborough county line.

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