TAMPA - The pilot of a small, 6-seat airplane was rushed to the hospital early Friday morning after crashing at Tampa International Airport. The pilot called in a distress signal minutes earlier.
At 11:44 p.m. Tampa International Airport received a call from a pilot, identified Friday as Mark Love, 58, of Tampa in distress with a report of low engine oil indicator.
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Seconds later, he told air traffic controllers at TIA, " I'm running a little bit rough here. I should be able to make it though."
Four minutes later at 11:48 p.m., the aircraft, a Cessna 210N belonging to Flight Express, Inc. crashed next to a small retention pond on airport property, west of the approach end of Runway 19R near the intersection of Hillsborough Avenue and the Veterans Expressway.
Two officers in a Tampa Police Department helicopter in the area heard the calls of distress and followed the aircraft to the airport, and landed nearby after the aircraft had crashed.
"It was more of a Blackhawk landing in a combat zone landing," recalled Officer Dave Dennison, who was piloting the TPD helicopter.
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Video taken from the police helicopter shows officers Dave Dennison and Brian Gentry run over to the crash site, grab an extinguisher and put out a small fire on the aircraft, and then pull Love, who was unconscious, to safety.
"He was sandwiched between the cockpit and the seat," explained Officer Brian Gentry.
"Basically, I had to pull him out of the aircraft which put him in some pain."
At 2 p.m., the City of Tampa and Tampa PD publicly thanked Officers Gentry and Dennison for their heroics.
Tampa Fire Rescue took the pilot to a local hospital, and his condition is listed as critical.
According to the NTSB, the single-engine aircraft was making a late-night cargo trip from Valdosta, GA to Tampa.
The NTSB and FAA are expected to investigate. The wreckage was removed with a crane late Friday.
NEIGHBORS CALL PILOT 'WONDERFUL PERSON'
Marta Vilar learned of a plane crash at TIA when video of the daring rescue popped up on her television screen Friday morning.
At the time, she had no idea her good friend and next door neighbor was the pilot.
"A miracle, yes it is, an angel is with him," said Vilar.
Vilar described Love as a quiet man who kept to him self. She explained that he was very private and never spoke of family or had guests over.
Love, according to Vilar, would always take time when he came to and from work to stop and pet her dog, China.
"Wonderful person," Vilar said of Love.
Vilar told ABC Action News she's been friends with Love for about 18 months. She says she plans to help him when he returns home from the hospital.
"I hope he gets well soon and comes back home," she added.