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St. Petersburg woman says pilot was her husband.

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Captiva, Florida (News-Press) -- The National Transportation Safety Board arrived Thursday in North Captiva and formally took over the investigation of a plane crash in the Gulf waters just off shore, announcing it found a body.

With a portion of the Piper 32-A wing sticking out of the 15-feet-deep waters about 100 feet from shore and the landing strip, officials wouldn't confirm the pilot's name, but Nancy Howard, of St. Petersburg, said her husband, Gregg Howard, 62, was in the plane that crashed.

Initial witness accounts said more than one person was on board, but Howard said she was 100 percent sure her husband was flying solo in the plane he owned.

A spokesman for the NTSB said the investigation could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months.

Because the plane was still submerged in the Gulf late Thursday, information and details on the investigation are more difficult to come by, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said. The NTSB will not remove the plane, and calls to other agencies didn't reveal when that would happen.

The NTSB began its afternoon talking to witnesses, gathering data and examining the area.

Thursday afternoon, a NTSB official told partner WINK News that a body was discovered in the plane. It's a variant of that plane was made famous when John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and sister-in-law, Lauren Bessette, were killed in a Piper Saratoga that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Martha's Vineyard 15 years ago Wednesday.

An island manager said he knew Gregg Howard and spoke with him the day of the crash.

"He was a good guy. A good pilot," said Zeke McDonald.

McDonald — who landed a plane on the island Thursday afternoon — called landing on the island's strip "easy."

Jim Fisher, who lives near the landing strip, said the plane had made multiple trips to bring tile for work on a house the Howards owned. The island is accessible only by boat or small plane.

The plane most likely hit its landing gear on wood barriers at the end of the runway prior to crashing into the water, Fisher said, pointing out damaged wood at the scene.

Fisher met Howard "three or four times" but said his plane was always coming and going from the island.

His was one of three or four planes that regularly land on the island, Fisher added. "You have to be pretty experienced to land on a grass strip," he said.

Howard was listed as the president of Howard Aviation Inc., of St. Petersburg.In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration recognized him with inclusion in the prestigious FAA Airmen Certification Database.

The database, which appears on the agency's website at faa.gov, names Howard and other certified pilots who have met or exceeded the high educational, licensing and medical standards established by the FAA.

The small plane was making its descent to the Salty Approach Airstrip on the island, also known as Upper Captiva, after taking off from Page Field at 5:40 p.m.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation has an automated weather station at Redfish Pass, less than a mile from the Upper Captiva airstrip. It reported the wind had been westerly in the mid-teens with gusts in the high-teens and into the 20-mph range about the time of the crash.

There were no severe weather warnings for the area, but "it was a busy day: a lot of storms everywhere," said Tom Daugherty, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Ruskin.

According to a weather service report issued shortly after the crash on Wednesday night:

"Thunderstorms were not over the airfield at the reported accident time ... but there were storms (about) 10 miles away on either side" and weather "could have been a factor in the crash depending on the approach direction, or if the reported time was off," the weather service report added.

- Staff writers Michael Braun and Laura Ruane contributed to this report.

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ISLAND CRASHES

North Captiva, which has its own runway, has been the scene of many airplane crashes over the years.

  • April 19, 1990: Karl Drews of the San Carlos Park Fire Department and Andy Anderson of the Upper Captiva Fire Department crashed and died.
  • Feb. 28, 2003: A Palm Harbor pilot died when his small plane crashed after taking off from the island.
  • June 1, 2004: Two men escaped injury when their Cessna 172 crashed off Upper Captiva Island. They swam to shore.
  • March 10, 2006: A single-engine Beech Musketeer airplane crashed during an attempted landing at the airstrip. The pilot and passenger were not injured.
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