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Two doctors die in plane crash
The Pinellas physicians and a female passenger were landing at a remote airstrip in North Carolina.
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE and AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published May 27, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG -- Two doctors who worked at St. Petersburg General Hospital died Saturday when their single-engine airplane crashed at a remote mountain airstrip in North Carolina.
Dr. Freddy A. Camuzzi, 60, of Largo and Dr. Charles R. "Chas" Freeble III, 59, of St. Petersburg were killed as they attempted to land their plane at an airport and golfing community 35 miles northeast of Asheville.
The plane, a four-seat Columbia that was less than a year old, bounced off the paved runway and collided with parked aircraft nearby, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The aircraft then burst into flames, killing both doctors and a female passenger, officials said. Officials did not release the identity of the woman.
David Coe, the manager of the private Mountain Air Airport, said the doctors' plane hit six other aircraft during the crash. Both men were pilots, according to FAA records, but Coe said he did not know which one was at the controls.
He said no one on the ground was injured.
In St. Petersburg, the news came as a shock to Camuzzi's and Freeble's colleagues and friends. Both men were experienced pilots with extensive flying histories.
Freeble was a certified flying instructor, records show. And Camuzzi had flown out of St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport for at least 20 years, local pilots said.
"He loved to fly," Albert Whitted operator Ron Methot said of Camuzzi, who was Chilean. "Any chance he could, he got away from the home drama of work and life. It was always his passion."
The two men had co-owned at least two planes, including the $500,000 Columbia, and often flew together, friends said.
On this trip, Camuzzi and Freeble were heading to a home Camuzzi owns at the remote community to spend the Memorial Day weekend. Flight records show the two men left Albert Whitted around 8 a.m. Saturday, and FAA officials said the crash occurred around 11 a.m.
The airstrip is nearly 4,400 feet above sea level, and according to the Asheville Citizen-Times, is the highest landing strip east of the Mississippi River. Pictures from the airstrip's Web site show clouds below the runway in a nearby valley. The crash is being investigated by both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.
Camuzzi, a urologist, and Freeble, a cardiologist and internist, both split time between private practices and St. Petersburg General.
"They were part of our family," said Tammy Robiconti, a spokeswoman at the hospital. "We loved them both. They were just wonderful doctors."
Phyllis and Paul Tauber, neighbors of Freeble's, said the doctor lived with his wife, Kathy, a lawyer, and had a daughter who lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
They described Freeble as a careful man who didn't take chances. "He was no hot dog," said Phyllis Tauber, who herself hates to fly. "He used to say, 'Why don't you come up and fly with us.' We wouldn't. But if there was anybody we'd go up with, it would have been him."
The couple recalled how Freeble buzzed their house with his plane one New Year's Eve. "He came down like he as going to land it on our back deck," said Paul Tauber.
"He was a real sportsman," he said. "He was a Renaissance man. He was wonderful."
Camuzzi's son, Marco, who also is a urologist, said Saturday evening that it was too difficult to speak about his father's death.
A colleague recalled Camuzzi as a local innovator in his field.
"He was always bringing new technology to town," said Dr. Sean Herron. "He was the first person who would go out and try something."