A 15-year-old student pilot, flying a small plane without permission and pursued by a US Coast Guard helicopter, crashed into a skyscraper in Tampa, Florida, authorities said.
Tampa Fire Department officials presume the pilot, Charles Bishop of Palm Harbor, was killed in the Saturday evening crash but could not positively identify him until the wreckage was secured.
Crews pulled the wreckage into the building early yesterday and intended to dismantle it, Tampa Police spokeswoman Katie Hughes said.
The crash occurred after Bishop's grandmother took him to the National Aviation Academy flight school for a 5pm flying lesson, said Marianne Pasha, a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman. She said an instructor told Bishop to check equipment on the four-seat 2000 Cessna 172R before the lesson.
"The next thing the instructor knew he was gone," Pasha said.
Though terrorism was quickly discounted, the televised image of a plane blasting a hole in the side of a skyscraper was a chilling reminder of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York's World Trade Center. The plane's tail dangled near the 28th floor of the 42-story Bank of America building.
Only a few office workers and the staff of a club in the building were present at the time of the crash. None was injured.
Michael Cronin, an attorney for the National Aviation Academy, said Bishop had been taking lessons since March and had logged about six hours of flight time.
He said the boy often bartered to clean planes in exchange for flight time and was quite familiar with operations at the school. Cronin said students do preflight equipment checks on their own, then have their accuracy verified by an instructor.
"The bottom line is he essentially stole the aircraft," Cronin said. "We aren't going to speculate what his mental state or motivations were."
A Coast Guard HH60 Jayhawk helicopter on routine patrol intercepted the plane and attempted to give the pilot visual signals to land at a small airport, but the pilot did not respond, Coast Guard Lieutenant Charlotte Pittman said.
Sheriff's Sergeant Greg Tita said the FBI was interviewing Bishop's family and that there was no record of the ninth grader running into problems with the law in the past.
The 28th floor houses the law firm of Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick. Managing partner Greg Yadley said one attorney and her husband were in the offices at the time of the crash, but were not injured. An hour before, he said, an attorney had been at a desk the plane smashed into.
"It could have been possibly a tragic situation," Yadley said. "We were lucky."
Attorney Rogell Rovell was working on the 41st floor Saturday when the plane crashed.
"I heard a loud bang," said Rovell. "It wasn't particularly loud. It sounded like an electrical transformer blowing."
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