The small plane that crashed and burst into flames on SW College Road on Thursday morning may have experienced engine trouble and apparently was attempting to return to Ocala International Airport.
The fiery crash killed the pilot and a passenger whose names haven’t yet been released pending notification of next of kin. Witnesses reported seeing the plane flying low and almost hitting a hotel before curving over the top of the Dillard’s store in Market Street at Heath Brook and slamming onto the busy roadway.
The plane clipped a late-model tan-colored SUV as it slid across all traffic lanes of SW College Road, hit a pole and burst into flames. The driver of the heavily damaged SUV was transported to a hospital with unknown injuries.
Witnesses to the crash, which is being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration, reported hearing an explosion that sounded like a bomb going off when the plane slammed into the ground. Smoke could be seen billowing above the wreckage for several minutes until firefighters and other emergency personnel arrived on scene and extinguished the blaze.
After the flames had been extinguished, firefighters covered the cockpit area of the plane with a large pink tarp or blanket, presumably to shield the remains of the victims from the public. Nearby, debris from the plane and the SUV covered both sides of the roadway, which was quickly closed to traffic by Ocala Police officers.
One witness reported that the plane looked like a “Cessna-type” aircraft. Another said he saw the pilot struggling to stay airborne as he heard the engines “straining and cutting out.” And one person said the shopping complex across from the crash site was “total chaos.”
SW College Road remained closed late Thursday afternoon while the investigation into the crash continued. Police were encouraging motorists to steer clear of the area or find alternate routes to their destinations.
Law enforcement officers from the Ocala Police Department, Marion County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol responded to the incident, along with crews from Ocala Fire Rescue and Marion County Fire Rescue. Ocala Fire Rescue’s highly specialized Aircraft Rescue Firefighting apparatus also responded from Ocala International Airport.