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Crash leaves pair dead

The plane came down in a Clearwater residential area with three aboard. The lone survivor was critically injured.

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 22, 2003

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Firefighters extinguish the Piper Navajo, which was supposed to land at Clearwater Airparl. A third, critically injured passenger was pulled from the wreckage.

[Times photo: Libby Volgyes]
One of two sheriff's deputies credited with rescuing the lone survivor of the plane crash waits at the scene.
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CLEARWATER - Nancy Cernak is used to hearing airplanes fly low over her parents' house, but the one she heard Thursday afternoon sounded too low, like it was just overhead.

The motor didn't sound right, either.

"Then I heard the engine cut out totally," said Cernak, 31.

Moments later, she heard a crash, then an explosion.

A twin-engine Piper Navajo crashed into the residential neighborhood near Clearwater Airpark, killing two people aboard and critically injuring a third. Their identities were not known late Thursday.

Several neighbors said they heard the engine die seconds before the plane sliced through treetops and crashed into a driveway at 1840 Greenlea Drive, near Keene Road, and burst into flames.

Cernak and her sister, Jennifer Detrapani, 13, ran from their house and saw the debris and flames shooting into the air, just two doors down.

In pouring rain, thick smoke quickly engulfed the neighborhood.

The sisters saw two men using trashcans to scoop water from a nearby swale and dump it on the surviving passenger.

One of the men reached into the flaming wreckage, grabbed an arm, and pulled.

A man with burns and broken bones emerged.

Hugh Martin said his son, Horace, also a pilot,happened upon the crash while driving by in his pickup truck and pulled the man free. Witnesses said Martin appeared distraught, and he declined to speak with the media.

"Essentially, he may have saved his life," said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Mariannne Pasha.

The surviving victim was flown to Tampa General Hospital, where he underwent surgery and was listed in critical condition.

All three men on board were from Pinellas County: a father, his son and a friend of the son, authorities said.

The plane was headed home after a morning trip to North Florida, according to Dennis Roper, who operates Skywatch Traffic Inc. out of the airpark.

Federal Aviation Administration officials were on site Thursday evening, and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash. David King, manager of Clearwater Airpark, declined to comment.

Late Thursday, two bodies remained inside the charred wreckage of the crash, which left some neighbors horrified.

It was not the first accident near the small, city-owned airpark.

Last summer, a Piper Cherokee crash-landed near Patricia Avenue and Beltrees Street, bouncing into traffic and slamming into a moving Hyundai. No one was badly injured.

Five crashes occurred in the area in 1979 and 1980, with several fatalities.

"I have been dreading this for 12 years," James H. Free said Thursday. His backyard lies about 150 feet from the crash scene. "These planes come over our houses 40 times a week."

Lisa Graff, who lives down the block, said crashes are a constant neighborhood worry.

"I've been waiting for it to happen," she said. "That was one of my fears in buying this house."

- Times researchers Kitty Bennett and Cathy Wos and staff writer Lorri Helfand contributed to this report. Jennifer Farrell can be reached at 445-4160 or

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