Wednesday, June 30, 2010
According to eyewitnesses to the incident, the aircraft appeared to be in distress as it approached the Sanibel shoreline, which was filled with hundreds of beachgoers enjoying a warm summer day in Southwest Florida.
"We were in the water, and we saw the plane coming up the beach," said Gloria McCauley, who was visiting from Columbus, Ohio. "It was flying very low and it was flying very close to the shore. We knew something wasn't right because we could see the pilot waving his hands, like he was signaling to people to move away."
Around 2:30 p.m., the pilot — identified as John Parks — landed the plane in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 100 yards off the coast and one-half mile north of the public beach access of Bowman's Beach.
"He did a pretty good job landing it," added McCauley. "The belly of the plane hit first, and then the right wing hit the water. It made a huge splash."
The passenger of the plane was identified as Desi Dreffin, who is the registered owner of the aircraft.
Robert Szanto of Naples, another eyewitness to the crash, called 9-1-1 when he saw the plane heading towad the shoreline.
"I had never seen anything like that before," he said. "When it landed, it looked like it took a really big hit."
Within minutes, the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District, Sanibel Police Department, Lee County Fire Department, Lee County EMS and the United States Coast Guard arrived on the scene to assist in the rescue effort. No injuries were reported.
"I was really impressed with the emergency response," added Szanto. "There were planes and helicopters here about five minutes after the crash."
Chris Danzi also watched the incident from the beach. He walked out in the waist-high water and helped Parks pull the sea plane into the shallows.
"I talked to (Parks) and he said that he had a problem with the tail, so he had to put it down," said Danzi, a resident of Long Island, N.Y. "When we saw the crash, we thought there were going to be some major injuries, but there he was, about 20 yards out, pulling his plane it. He even swam back out to get some of the pieces that broke off."
The aircraft, a Sea Wind 3000, is based out of Osprey, Fla. The two-seat plane has not been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and given an airworthiness certificate at the time of the incident.