Charter captains witness plane's crash-landing in Keys

2 on board survive landing


MARATHON, Fla. – The sight of a six-passenger, 1964 Beechcraft Bonanza floating in the water off Marathon got nearly everybody's attention Wednesday.

"That's pretty wild," said tourist Jay Hamlin. "That's something new for us. We are from Atlanta."

Luckily for the pilot, a fishing charter captain heading home was paying attention Saturday night when the plane went down in the dark.

"I keep looking at him and he is flying lower and lower and lower, getting closer to the water," said John Callion, with Callion Fishing Charters. "All of the sudden a huge explosion of water came up and I immediately called the Coast Guard and I called my buddy."

The two rushed to the crash site, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

"I didn't know if I was going to pull up with 10 passengers in the water and someone with a broken arm or a missing limb," Callion said.

"The airplane was in the water with no lights and then the pilot, the guy, he came up to the surface and he had a small L.E.D. light around his head," said Capt. James Platt, with No Slack Charters.

The plane's owner and pilot, James Tharp, is a dentist from Illinois. According to his website, he is a part-time flight instructor and he and his wife fly often. They appeared unhurt, but very shaken.

Salvage crews have now floated the airplane with airbags and are towing it in. The crash is still under investigation but the pilot told the Coast Guard that he still had 60 gallons of fuel on board and he was just 2 miles from the airport. He said he had just come through a thunderstorm and he was a little bit disoriented in the darkness as to how far from the water he was.

"It was pitch black and there was a huge cold front coming," Callion said.

"Within a matter of seconds it was blowing 25-30 knots and it was raining," Platt said.

So the charter captain helped fish the Illinois couple and their belongings out of the water.

"I think it is probably one of the craziest things I've seen," Platt said. "I don't fly and that is why right there."