Tow plane wreckage recovered from Tampa Bay

NTSB investigator studying crash remains

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Recovery crews have pulled the wreckage of a crashed plane from Tampa Bay following Sunday's accident that killed the pilot.

The yellow Piper PA-23 was winched out of 25 feet of water Monday afternoon, less than a 100 feet from the seawall of Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg.

Donald Thomasson, 70, died after his towing plane dove into the water shortly after takeoff. The plane was pulling a banner advertisement, but witnesses said the banner was ditched moments before the plane lost control.

"It's not surprising. It's very sad," said Constance Price, a kayaker who frequently watches the banner planes take off while paddling in the bay.  Price said she's seen the planes appear to have trouble as they leave from the airport.

"We often just marvel at the discontinuity of the size of the banner and sheer wind factors," Price said. "Sometimes you can see that they're being blown sideways."

Steve Lallamant and his son are daily fisherman in the bay near the airport and the Coast Guard station. He said when the planes latch onto the banner in mid-flight you can hear the strain on the engine.

"It stalls them out pretty good," Lallamant said. "It almost looks like they're stopping in mid-air but they're kicking up a lot of RPM's."

Some witnesses said the plane sounded like it was having some kind of trouble as it was making popping sounds before the crash.

The NTSB sent an investigator to inspect the plane's remains, which were taken to a hangar at Whitted airport.

The Coast Guard was criticized by some boaters Sunday, after they said some Coast Guard members asked people to dive into the water to try and save the pilot.

It wasn't until the fire department with some dive gear arrived that Thomasson's body was recovered. Boaters wanted to know why Coast Guard members weren't equipped for a rescue, especially since a similar plane accident occurred next to the Coast Guard station in March.

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