OAKLAND PARK, Fla. – The pilot of a small plane that dove into a house shortly after take-off in Florida was identified as 80-year-old Cecil A. Murray, the only victim of the crash.
The twin-engine Cessna 421 sputtered and then plummeted into the Fort Lauderdale-area residence shortly after taking off from a local airport, slicing the home down the middle into two charred pieces.
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The house burst into flames after the plane crashed around 11:20 a.m. Friday.
The owner's nephew barely escaped the catastrophe, leaving just before the aircraft hit to visit his aunt.
"For now, it's a bit difficult to explain how I feel," said Oscar Nolasco, 52, who has lived in the home for nearly 20 years. "Everything is gone."
The house was about a mile from the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, where the plane has just taken off. Murray did not survive, said Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti. There were no passengers aboard the plane.
The smell of fuel hung in the air hours after the crash, and the shell of the aircraft was sandwiched between two walls of the beige house. The home's driveway was black, but its white mailbox was still standing.
When the plane began to fail, Rick Cunningham heard a "spitting and sputtering" while he was painting a house down the street. Then, he saw the plane coming in sideways, and it nose-dived into the ground, he said.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Robert Gretz said several witnesses reported "possible engine trouble on takeoff and an engine on fire."
Gretz said officials expect to have a preliminary report of the investigation in about two weeks, but the investigation could be difficult because the blaze destroyed some evidence and the aircraft is buried beneath the rubble.
Cunningham, 52, ran over to the house and knocked the bedroom windows down to see if there was anyone inside, but after a few minutes he had to leave. "The heat was just too intense," he said.
The plane was headed to Fernandina Beach, just outside Jacksonville, where airport officials expected it to land around 1 p.m. The pilot, who had logged about 23,000 hours of flying since 1985, was traveling there to sell it, Lamberti said.
But after takeoff, something went wrong. Shortly after it got into the air, it reported trouble to the tower, and the tower cleared it to turn around and land, said Chaz Adams, an airport spokesman. It never made it.
When authorities called him to tell him about the crash, Nolasco said he thought it was a joke.
Nolasco said his employer has reduced his hours, and it's not unusual for him to be home on a weekday. He was needed at the factory Friday, though, and left for work hours before the crash.
"I have to thank God I have my life," he said.