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Plane crash sends pilot to hospital

The pilot told authorities the aircraft's engine failed shortly after he took off from a private airfield.

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


HERNANDO -- A single-engine plane crashed between two homes near a private airstrip in northeast Citrus County Tuesday morning, leaving the pilot injured but recovering at a Tampa hospital.

Authorities say Edd Smith told them he had just taken off from Twelve Oaks Air Estates, a community of about two dozen homes north of Hernando built around a 2,800-foot-long grassy runway. The crash happened shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday when the engine failed.

He appeared to be trying to return to the runway when his left wing clipped the top of a tree and the plane, a 1967 fixed-wing Alon, crashed nose-first against another tree. The crash took place between two homes on Wiley Post Way, about 200 yards northwest of the runway.

Smith spent nearly 90 minutes suspended upside down until rescue workers could cut the plane and remove him. He was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital, where he was still being evaluated Tuesday afternoon. His condition was not available, but he was said to be recovering.

"He was alert and awake," said Ronda Hemminger Evan, a spokeswoman for the Citrus County Sheriff's Office. "He was flown out as a precaution."

Neighbors say Smith, a retiree from the U.S. Customs Service, splits his time between a home at Twelve Oaks on North Fairwind Loop and a home in Tampa. His wife, Nancy, teaches school in Pinellas County.

"He flies just about every day, and sometimes he's gone for several hours," said Knute Lingaard, one of his neighbors on Fairwind Loop in the tight-knit, gated community. "He's a very good pilot."

One witness, visiting family in the neighborhood, said Smith's plane lifted off but soon began losing altitude and appeared to slow.

"When they (planes) quit flying, they're done," said Kenny Layne, visiting from Bloomington, Ind.

Lingaard, who owns a single-engine 1946 Piper Cub, said he has flown with Smith. He said that, like all pilots, they practiced landing after cutting the engine to simulate an emergency situation.

"We do practice returning to the airport with the engine out," he said. "But the worst time that it can happen is during takeoff because you don't have enough altitude to get back to the runway."

Federal aviation officials are investigating the crash as a matter of routine, the Sheriff's Office said.

A plane departing from Twelve Oaks crashed in southern Marion County shortly after takeoff in September 1997, killing two friends, Peter Smith, no relation to Edd Smith, and Phillip Schmitz, both of Hernando.

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- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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