- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) A 15-year-old student pilot took off in a small plane without permission yesterday and crashed into a skyscraper after ignoring a Coast Guard helicopter's signals to land, authorities said.
The crash occurred after Charles J. Bishop's grandmother brought him to the National Aviation flight school for a 5 p.m. flying lesson, said Marianne Pasha, a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.
She said an instructor told Mr. Bishop to check the plane's equipment before the lesson.
"The next thing the instructor knew, he was gone," Miss Pasha said.
Though terrorism was quickly discounted, the televised image of a plane blasting a hole in the side of a skyscraper was a chilling reminder of the World Trade Center attacks. The plane's tail dangled near the 20th floor of the 40-story Bank of America building.
One person was killed, but officials would not quickly confirm it was Mr. Bishop. It was unknown whether anyone in the building was injured.
Mr. Bishop, of nearby Palm Harbor, had been taking lessons for two years, Miss Pasha said.
Air traffic controllers at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport notified the Coast Guard that the four-seat 2000 Cessna 172R had taken off without clearance, said Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Charlotte Pittman.
A Coast Guard helicopter intercepted the plane and attempted to give the pilot visual signals to land at a small airport, but the pilot did not respond, Lt. Pittman said.
She said the plane was only a few yards from the helicopter when it was signaled to land. Lt. Pittman said she had no doubt the pilot understood what the Coast Guard helicopter was indicating.
In Portland, Ore., where President Bush was touring a job center, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said "there is no indication" of terrorism.
He said that Mr. Bush was briefed on the incident, and that White House officials had been in touch with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Capt. Kirstin Reimann at the North American Aerospace Defense Command said two F-15s scrambled from Homestead Air Reserve Base as a precaution but declined to say whether they reached the scene before the crash.
Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Tita said the plane briefly breached air space at McDill Air Force Base, home of Central Command, which is running the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Aircraft takeoffs at Tampa International Airport and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport were suspended for 40 minutes, said FAA spokesman Christopher White.

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