Wind slammed plane to ground

From his hospital bed, the pilot describes the Thursday crash at Albert Whitted Airport.

Published May 19, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - The powerful wind slapped the small plane against the ground with such force that Carroll Turner Jr. couldn't breathe.

He was in a daze, gasping for air, as his cousin and passenger, Rodney Moore, begged him to get out. It was Thursday evening. They had just crashed near the seawall of Albert Whitted municipal airport.

Turner remembers staggering out of the plane and stumbling away. As he looked back, he heard a loud boom and saw his small Maule plane go up in flames.

"You could feel the heat," said Turner, 61, a St. Petersburg resident and president of the manufacturing company Turn More Industries.

On Friday, Turner spoke to reporters from his hospital bed, where he was being treated for fractured ribs. He wore a neck brace and had bruises on his arms. His breath was ragged. His wife, Gail Gagnon, 57, was by his side.

Bayfront officials say both Turner and Moore, 58, are in good condition.

Turner, who said he has been flying since 1999, has almost 370 hours of flying experience. On Thursday, he and Moore were heading back from a business meeting in Homestead and didn't run into any bad weather until they arrived at Albert Whitted's runway.

The first gust hit the plane just as it was landing, Turner said. It was so powerful that he pulled up and was soon slammed down into the ground by an even stronger gust.

Turner says he plans to return to the air after recovering.

"I'll fly again," he said. "But I don't know if I'll buy an airplane again."

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 727 893-8472.