TAMPA, Fla. – A small plane crashed into a building in downtown Tampa on Saturday evening after a student pilot took off without permission and ignored orders to land, according to authorities.
Federal Aviation Authority spokesman Scott Brenneer said the plane was flown by "a student pilot who did not have permission to fly the aircraft." No passengers were reported aboard. Authorities say one person was killed in the crash, but would not confirm that person was the pilot.
The non-commercial, single-engine aircraft hit the west side of the Bank of America building on floor 20 of the 40-story building, Tampa Fire Department spokesman Captain Bill Wade said.
The crash occurred after 15-year-old Charles J. Bishop's grandmother brought him to the National Aviation flight school for a 5 p.m. flying lesson, said Marianne Pasha, a spokeswoman for Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Student pilots are not permitted to fly solo until age 16.
Bishop took off in a Cessna 172R took off without clearance from St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport or his flight instructor, and an air traffic controller notified the coast guard, according U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Ed Parkinson.
A coast guard helicopter intercepted the plane and ordered the pilot to land at a small nearby air field; instead, the pilot flew into the building. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Charlotte Pittman said she had no doubt that the pilot understood the signals given by the coast guard helicopter.
The crash occurred shortly after 5 p.m. Police and fire crews were on the scene, although the building did not appear to be on fire, according to Tampa Police Department spokesman Joe Durkin.
Pieces of the plane fell to the sidewalk after the crash. During the week, that street would have been filled with people, Wade said.
The plane is registered to a St. Petersburg flight school, according to Wade.
Eric Reyes, 25, said he was stopped at a traffic light when the plane crashed.
"I saw a big cloud of smoke," Reyes said. He said he saw one wing fall and hit the ground, followed moments later by the other wing.
Bank of America, based in Charlotte, N.C., is the third-largest U.S. bank.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.