Cause of aircraft crashes 'too early to tell'
By KATHRYN WEXLER and RYAN MEEHAN
TAMPA -- Before he crashed two aircraft in 10 hours, Michael Antinori had a perfect flying record. That was enough for his grieving family Wednesday to blame mechanical error for his death.
"There are speculations and suspicions about fuel leakage," said John Brewer, an attorney and friend acting as family spokesman.
As aviation investigators carted away the metal pieces of Antinori's Cessna 172 Skyhawk on Wednesday, questions remained about whether the two crashes were a stunning coincidence or something intentional.
"It's too early to tell," said National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Tim Monville.
Antinori, 30, a Tampa native and son of a well-to-do family, crashed his experimental helicopter onto the roof of a house Monday night near Temple Terrace. He escaped with minor injuries, and the occupants were unharmed.
The next morning, Antinori was the only person in his Cessna plane when it smashed into woods near Lutz. Officials said Wednesday his identity was confirmed by dental records.
Brewer said Antinori's family visited him at Tampa General Hospital after Monday's helicopter crash. They said he was not a troubled son.
"Michael had no personal problems," Brewer said. "These are the most unfortunate two incidents."
It could be weeks before investigators know the cause of the fatal crash. They intend to examine flight controls, the engine, fuel records and all systems on the aircraft.
A witness described the plane as plunging at a near-vertical angle, the engine running full bore, Monville said. The plane hit with such force that the engine was buried 2 feet in the ground. Wings were shorn by trees and the tail section ripped away.
After looking at preliminary radar data, investigators said the Cessna circled the intersection of Ehrlich Road and N Dale Mabry Highway from 7:37 to 8:10 a.m at about 2,200 feet. The plane headed northwest, and was lost from radar when it crashed.
There was no two-way communication between air traffic controllers and the pilot. Monville will be looking at the plane's radio to determine what frequency it was on, which will indicate whether the pilot could hear air traffic transmissions.
Antinori had no previous accidents or incidents, according to Federal Aviation Authority records. The agency also had no records that Antinori's Cessna had any mechanical problems, but those reports are made voluntarily by pilots.
Investigators have yet to determine why the helicopter crashed the night before.
The Antinoris own a Brandon bedding company and live in Culbreath Isles, a South Tampa community of million-dollar houses. Antinori is a graduate of Plant High School. He sold a townhouse on Harbour Island in 2000 that apparently was his residence. No records list a more recent address.
His parents, Santino and Lutricia Faye, set up a trust fund for their son four years ago. He owned a race car, a red 1997 Dodge Viper and a white 2001 BMW.
"He was a popular kid," said Robert Mahoney, who attended Plant High School with Antinori.
Test results as to whether Antinori had drugs or alcohol in his system will take about six weeks.
Antinori was arrested last year for DUI. He pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to 12 months' probation and fines.
"He seemed like a very nice young man who had a bright future and a very nice family in Tampa who were very concerned about him," said Thomas Donnelly, the attorney who represented him in the case.
The Antinori family thinks their son climbed into a cockpit just hours after the helicopter crash to prove, perhaps to himself, that his nerve was intact.
"Anyone in aviation knows and understands that once an incident occurs, you have to get back in the air immediately," Brewer said.
-- Kathryn Wexler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 226-3383. Staff writers Bill Coats and Bill Levesque contributed to this report.
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