1 dead after small plane crashes into Fort Lauderdale condo building

Banner plane crashes into side of building, lands on pool deck below

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor, Todd Tongen - Anchor/Reporter, Ian Margol - Reporter

One person is dead after a small banner plane crashed into a condominium building Friday in Fort Lauderdale.

The crash occurred shortly before noon at 3015 N. Ocean Blvd.

Wayne Leonard, who was inside the building when the crash occurred, said he heard a loud noise and felt the building shake.

"All of the sudden we heard the sound of a prop plane, like out of nowhere, for like three seconds. We heard a really loud crash and the building shook substantially," Leonard said. 

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Stephen Gollan said the plane crashed into the side of the building, between the 16th and 17th floors, and then landed on the pool deck below.

"I saw the plane going very, very close to the window. So I stepped outside and I heard a huge bang and I saw the plane already had gone down," said Olga Weaver, who lives in a building next door to where the crash occurred. 

"I was in back of my building putting water in my trees when I saw the low plane right close to my building. I go, 'Oh my, he is going to hit me!" another nearby resident, Mike Vilio, said.

Gollan said the building was occupied at the time, but no residents were injured. He said the building was evacuated as a precaution.

A yellow tarp could be seen covering the body next to the downed plane.

There appeared to be a hole in the side of the building where the plane made impact.

Authorities said about 20 construction workers were on the roof of the building at the time of the crash, but none of them were injured.  

Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the Piper PA-25 took off from North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines.

The plane is registered to Aerial Banners Inc., which is based at North Perry Airport. Employees at the company locked the front door to their building after the crash. 

A view from Sky 10 showed the banner that the plane had been carrying on the ground in a nearby neighborhood.

Ken Criswell, who is also a pilot, told Local 10 News he knew whoever was flying the plane couldn't pull the plane up because they were too low and going too slow.

"At that slow speed, there was just no control of it," he said. "(The engine) was running but he just had no power and couldn't climb."

Other planes registered to Aerial Banners Inc. have also been involved in crashes. 

One of the company's planes crashed in the Florida Everglades in March 2015 about three miles west of U.S. 27. A year before that, another went down in a lake in northeast Miami-Dade. The pilots in both crashes survived.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating Friday's crash.

"We are deeply saddened for the loss of our fellow aviator today, March 1, 2019," a statement from the North Perry Airport Community Association read in part. "For reasons still to be determined, a banner towing aircraft collided with a building along Ft Lauderdale beach. Our thoughts are with the pilot and his family. We are grateful that there was no further loss of life."

The statement went on to say that statistically, the operator of the banner plane has a "great record of minimal incidents for the vast number of operations they conduct."

"South Florida is an international hub for aviation, airlines, and flight training," the statement read. "Miami-Dade estimates that 1 in 4 jobs in South Florida is tied to aviation. Accidents like this are terrible, but it is through the diligent efforts of the thousands of people working in this industry that we can strive to maintain safety for our community."

 

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