St. Petersburg plane goes down; pilot dead

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. -- St. Petersburg Fire and Police responded to a banner plane that went down in the water near Albert Whitted Airport.

The plane crash occurred in the water about 75 yards south of the seawall at Albert Whitted Airport.

The pilot has been tentatively identified as a 70-year-old Donald Thomasson.

Divers were being called to the scene to search the water for the pilot.

Numerous pleasure boaters were also on the scene searching the water.

Witnesses have said there were 30 boats in the water, lots of agencies, but no one who could dive.

Witnesses were asked if they had any air tanks and could dive.

A U.S. Coast Guard vessel was first on the scene an estimated 6 minutes after the crash, followed shortly thereafter by a St. Petersburg Police boat.

Due to the depth of the water and murky condition, drivers from St. Petersburg Fire Rescue had to be brought to the scene to help extract the pilot. When his body was found, he was still strapped into the cockpit seat.

His body was transported to the Coast Guard base near the airport.

The plane belongs to an advertisement banner towing company based at the airport.

According to witnesses the pilot had just picked up a banner and was beginning to climb when popping noise could be heard coming from the plane.

The plane then appeared to nose down and crash into the water.

The plane involved in this afternoon's crash is a Piper PA23, the property of Aerial Banners Incorporated. Company representatives are in route to the scene from Ft. Lauderdale.

The plane is currently fully submerged in about 25 feet of water and will likely be extracted sometime tomorrow.

The Medical Examiner's Office will make a final determination as to the cause of death.

FAA investigators are on the scene and will be conducting the investigation from this point on.

This was also the same location of a previous crash back in March of 2014:

An advertising banner plane crashed into the water near Albert Whitted...

We will keep you updated with more information.

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