Woman dies after crash on lake
By ED QUIOCO
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 7, 2001
SEMINOLE -- A St. Petersburg woman was killed Sunday afternoon after the Sea Doo she was riding collided with an ultralight sea plane on a lake popular with operators of both vehicles.
Mary Ann Scibelli, 52, was riding the personal watercraft on Lake Seminole when she somehow crashed just moments after the ultralight pontoon plane landed on the water. Ms. Scibelli was thrown from the Sea Doo. Her left arm was severed just above her elbow and her head was cut, said Alison Shanabrook, Seminole Fire Rescue spokeswoman.
She was taken to a dock behind the Townhomes at Lake Seminole off Seminole Boulevard after the 5:36 p.m. crash, then flown to Bayfront Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead Sunday night.
John Tanner, 44, who is certified by the Experimental Aircraft Association as an ultralight flight instructor, said the accident occurred when Ms. Scibelli's Sea Doo rammed him from the side as he taxied toward a dock after landing. He was teaching a student, Jeremy Ryan, 50, of Holiday, at the time, but Tanner said he was at the controls of the small pontoon plane.
"I just think she was out of control," Tanner said. "The jet ski was going so fast I don't think she knew how to maneuver it."
A witness, Karen Raineri, 59, of Seminole, said she thought the ultralight caused the collision.
"Why the plane didn't see the jet skier, I have no idea, because we were saying that the plane was going to hit the jet ski," said Raineri, who thought the ultralight seemed unstable as it flew over the dock where she was standing at the Townhomes at Lake Seminole just before landing. "It just happened so fast. The jet skier probably didn't know what hit her."
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office was investigating the crash Sunday evening. Ultralights like the one Tanner was flying do not file flight plans, and their crashes are rarely investigated by federal authorities.
Ms. Scibelli was thrown 35 to 40 feet from the plane after the collision. Tanner, Ryan and a boater pulled her from the water and took her to the dock.
Ryan, who owns the plane, has had about 12 hours of training on the ultralight, said Tanner, who does not have a Federal Aviation Administration pilot's license but doesn't need one to legally fly the ultralights.
Tanner, a retired postal worker who lives in Largo, said he has been flying for about 15 years. He is one of several ultralight enthusiasts who can be seen flying around Lake Seminole, a long freshwater lake that is parallel to Seminole Boulevard (Alt. U.S. 19) from just south of Ulmerton Road in the north to Park Boulevard on the south.
Accidents involving the pontoon ultralights in and around Lake Seminole are not uncommon.
Tanner was aboard an ultralight that crashed in 1999 between the Sunshine Skyway and Tierra Verde after taking off from Lake Seminole. He said Sunday that a student was at the controls at the time of that crash.
Tanner said Sunday that he is wary of the personal watercraft that share Lake Seminole with other boats and the ultralights, and that he typically maintains control of the plane during takeoff and landing.
"We realize that jet skis are a potential hazard and we try particularly hard to avoid them," Tanner said. "We pick the clearest part of the lake" to land.
Residents at the Townhomes of Lake Seminole said dozens of water scooters and planes use the lake every weekend.
It's common for planes to "buzz" the condominiums after taking off, said Kristi Goldstein, 27, who lives in the neighborhood.
"There has been plenty of times I have been at the pool and said, 'Oh my God, (that ultralight) is not far,' " said Goldstein, whose condominium abuts the lake. "They shouldn't be in this lake. It's too small."
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