Tammy Morningstar was on her way home from the bank when she first spotted the growing presence in her Brandon neighborhood, punctuated by a number of Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office vehicles.
“I started freaking out, because my youngest was at home,” she said. “But as I pulled up closer, I saw a plane on the ground and drew a breath of fresh air.”
She said she was heartened to learn that the 66-year-old pilot, John M. Murray, and his 63-year-old wife, Phyllis A. Murray, both of 2922 Bayshore Court, Tampa, walked away uninjured.
“Apparently, from what I was told, the engine blew, and when the engine blew it blew oil on the windshield and the [the pilot] couldn’t see,’ Morningstar said. “It was a blessing that they landed where they did because there were houses all around them and they were 5 feet from a power line.”
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Larry McKinnon issued a similar sentiment, in a telephone interview after the accident, which reportedly occurred just before 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11.
“The fact that the pilot was able to put the plane down in a vacant field in a densely populated area was lucky for sure,” he said. “The fact that they both walked away with no injuries is a combination of God in the cockpit and some good piloting skills.”
According to McKinnon’s report, the 1981 Cessna single-engine aircraft, owned by the pilot, landed in a cow pasture at Dew Bloom Road and Beverly Boulevard, across the street and just to the south of the Brandon Sports & Aquatic Center.
The report noted the area as Valrico, but Morningstar clarified that by saying she lives in Brandon, at the Brandon/Valrico border, and the crash "literally was pretty much behind my house."
After takeoff from the Peter O. Knight Airport in Tampa, en route to Miami, the plane experienced mechanical problems, lost altitude and crashed, causing “significant damage to the underbody and nose cone,” McKinnon said.
Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have taken over the investigation.
As for Morningstar and her neighbors, she said they won’t soon forget the crash in the field behind their homes.
“Oh, no,” she said. “It’s definitely not something you see every day.”