Iraqis not on a Florida mission

A plane that landed on a rural road is destined for Iraq.

By Casey Cora, Times Staff Writer
Published February 22, 2008

TAMPA - A small plane marked with Iraqi military labels was forced to make an emergency landing in rural Highlands County on Wednesday.

Sheriff's officials there say the plane, reportedly a single-engine craft, was on a "test flight" from Tampa to an undisclosed location when it experienced mechanical problems and landed on County Road 731, a two-lane road in the southern part of the county.

"We were told it was a private contractor making some planes for Iraq," said Capt. Randy LaBelle with the Highlands County Sheriff's Office.

U.S. Air Force spokesman Daryl Mayer told the Associated Press that the four-seat, single-engine plane was part of a $10.5-million contract awarded to Cessna Aircraft Co. of Wichita, Kan., for 18 aircraft for the Iraqi air force.

Cessna spokesman Doug Oliver said the plane flew from Miami, where a diesel engine had been installed, to an undisclosed location in the Tampa area, where it was painted. On the return flight to Miami, the aircraft had engine trouble. The pilot was not injured.

The aircraft are shipped from Miami to Iraq aboard Air Force transport planes, Oliver said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it is investigating.