- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

OAKLAND PARK, FLA. (AP) - A small plane sputtered and dove into a house shortly after taking off from a local airport Friday morning, slicing the home down the middle into two charred pieces. The plane, believed to be a twin-engine Cessna 421, crashed around 11:20 a.m., and the house burst into flames. The owner’s nephew barely escaped the catastrophe, leaving moments before the aircraft hit to visit his aunt.

“For now, it’s a bit difficult to explain how I feel,” said Oscar Nolasco, 52, who has lived in the home for nearly 20 years. “Everything is gone.”

The house was about two miles from the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, where the plane has just taken off. Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said one person was on board, but it wasn’t known if that person survived.

Rick Cunningham heard a “spitting and sputtering coming from the plane” while he was painting a house down the street. Then, he saw the plane coming in sideways, and it nose-dived into the ground, he said.

Cunningham, 52, ran over to the house and knocked the bedroom windows down to see if there was anyone inside, but after a few minutes he had to leave. “The heat was just too intense,” he said.



The plane was headed to Fernandina Beach, just outside Jacksonville, where airport officials expected it to land around 1 p.m. But after takeoff, something went wrong. Shortly after it got into the air, it reported trouble to the tower, and the tower cleared it to turn around and land, said Chaz Adams, an airport spokesman. Before it could, it crashed.

“I said ‘Oh my God, that could have been my house.’ It was that close,” said Bill Slugg, who lives across the street.

“I was on the phone, the phone went dead and there was this loud bang and a lot of black smoke emanating from the area,” said Dorothy O’Brien, 83, who lives nearby. “Black, black smoke for at least ten minutes.”

Though the fire was quickly controlled, firefighters were trying isolate fuel in the debris, said Oakland Park Fire-Rescue Chief Donald Widing. A utility company also cut power in the area to about 1,645 customers because they were not able to get in to assess damage to power lines.

Nolasco said he and his nephew, Alex Martines, were staying in a hotel and getting assistance from the Red Cross. When authorities called him to tell him about the crash, Nolasco said he thought it was a joke.

“The house was a total loss,” said Broward Sheriff’s Office spokesman Mike Jachles. “The plane went right into the center of the house.”

FAA records list the plane’s owner as Sebring Air Charter in Tamarac, a Fort Lauderdale suburb. A message left at a phone number listed on Florida corporate records for one of the charter company’s officers was not immediately returned.

The crash was at least the fifth involving the airport, which caters to small planes and jets, in the last 12 years.

In 2007, a twin-engine Beechcraft reached about 150 feet after takeoff before the pilot reported he could not maintain altitude and declared a mayday. He crashed onto Interstate 95, but survived.

A DC-3 cargo plane crashed shortly after takeoff into a residential street near the airport in 2005. The pilot, co-pilot and a passenger all survived. The pilot said at the time they chose the street because it was quiet and wide, and has an abundance of tall palm trees he could run into to slow the plane’s speed.

In 2004, a Piper Cherokee crashed into the roof of an auto body shop shortly after takeoff, killing two people on the plane and critically injuring a third.

In 1997, a new pilot died when he crashed his Beechcraft Skipper 77 into a tree near the airport just after takeoff.

National Transportation Safety Board records show that Cessna 421s have been involved in 12 fatal accidents since 2004.

___

Sandy Kozel in AP’s Broadcast News Center contributed to this report.

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