Officials: Pilot in fatal crash reported fuel issue

A pilot was killed and his daughter and another teenage girl were seriously injured early Saturday when a small plane crashed on McMullen Booth Road in north Pinellas County, police said.

The single-engine Piper crashed nose-first in the median of the six-lane road just north of Union Street around 4 a.m., authorities said. Jeffrey Bronken, 53, died at the scene. Katherine Bronken and Keyano Linbo, both 15, were taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa in serious condition.

All were from Roundlake, Ill., about an hour north of Chicago.

The plane clipped a roadside power line on its way down, knocking out electricity to about 450 nearby residents. Firefighters extinguished some small fires from debris on the road, authorities said.

The plane has been removed from the scene.

“It’s just affecting getting in and out and doing your normal routine. No power–but those are minor things,” said nearby resident Chris Pearson.

The National Transportation Saftey Board said the pilot was headed to Clearwater Airport and reported some kind of fuel issue to airtraffic control before the plane went down.

“We’ll probably have to look at the route of flight, how long the plane was flying, where it stopped for fuel and so forth,” said investigator Robert Gretz, NTSB. “That will be one of the things we’ll look at, but we’ll also keep an open mind and look at everything — if it was a fuel leak or maybe it was something else that was causing engine problems that maybe wasn’t fuel related.”

Authorities said the plane left the Chicago area around 6:30 p.m. Friday, and the pilot may have been flying his daughter and her friend to Clearwater for spring break.

No vehicular traffic was impacted, and no one else was injured.

“This happened at 4 a.m., so luckily, no one was on the road at that time in this vicinity,” said Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. David DiSano.

A witness said he heard a “big boom,” looked outside and saw a big flash of light. He said he initially dismissed it as thunder and lightning.

One neighbor said they heard troubling sounds leading up to the crash.

“It was a different sound,” said neighbor Lisa Pratt. “I know the difference between an engine that’s running and an engine that’s sputtering and I was worried it might crash on my house, so I got up right away and looked for it. 

“It looked like it was coming in for a landing.”

Elizabeth Nelson lives and works in the area and said on her drive to work this morning, she watched the plane take a nosedive in the middle of the road.

“It was like a long line of fireworks and everything just kept coming down, just like a curtain,” she said.

McMullen Booth Road remained closed between Union Street and Enterprise Road for more than 12 hours. Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board investigators are on the scene.