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    Plane crashes into Mississippi Sound

    By Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001

    GULFPORT, Miss. -- A single-engine aircraft that took off from St. Petersburg crashed in the waters off Mississippi about 2 p.m. Saturday during stormy weather.

    By late Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard had recovered debris from the Piper aircraft but had not yet recovered the pilot. The Coast Guard refused to immediately release his name or hometown.

    The pilot was flying alone from St. Petersburg to Beaumont, Texas, when he disappeared from Gulfport airport radar without any call of distress, said Lt. Russ Brown, a Coast Guard spokesman in New Orleans.

    The plane crashed eight miles offshore in the Mississippi Sound near Cat Island.

    At the time, a weather front with scattered rain was moving through the area. "It appears that could have been a factor in the crash, but that's just speculation right now," Brown said. Coast Guard boats have recovered part of the plane's wing, the seats and a self-deployed life raft that was empty.

    The Coast Guard expected to continue the search for the pilot and debris through the night and into today, if necessary.

    Brown said the plane departed St. Petersburg on Saturday, though he could not say whether the plane took off from Albert Whitted Municipal Airport near downtown or St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, which is not within city limits.

    - Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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