Small plane crash-lands at Flavet Field; 2 hurt


Rescue workers secure the scene of a small plane crash near Flavet Field on the University of Florida campus, an area filled with tailgaters congregating before the Florida Gators' game against the Arkansas Razorback Saturday, October 5, 2013 in Gainesville Fla.

Rob C. Witzel/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 4:46 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 5:05 p.m.

Tailgaters were munching on chips, knocking back beer and tossing footballs before Saturday's University of Florida game against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Then, just after 4 p.m., a small plane crash-landed on Flavet Field, bounced, hit a truck, and wound up in a cluster of oaks.

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Rescue workers secure the scene of a small plane crash near Flavet Field on the University of Florida campus, an area filled with tailgaters congregating before the Florida Gators' game against the Arkansas Razorback Saturday, October 5, 2013 in Gainesville Fla.

Rob C. Witzel/The Gainesville Sun

Officials credited the pilot with averting a potential disaster.

The pilot and a passenger suffered injuries that were not life-threatening. The pilot was likened by witnesses to Capt. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, who safely landed a US Airways flight in the Hudson River in 2009.

"It was sputtering. He was trying to restart it and it wouldn't restart. He touched down in the field by some RVs. He was going way too fast to stop, so he continued into the trees," said Charlie Miller, 14, of Atlanta.

"We were just so in shock. We didn't know what was going to happen. It was extremely close to us. We're really lucky no one was hurt."

University of Florida Police Chief Linda Stump said neither the Federal Aviation Administration nor the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate because of the federal government shutdown.

Instead, the aviation unit of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office will collect information, Stump said.

Authorities identified the pilot as Graham A. Hill, 28, and the passenger as Ian C. Conrad, 26.

Officials said the plane, which was carrying an advertising banner, lost power. The banner was ditched in an effort to lighten the weight.

Witnesses said the plane flew low over Pressly Stadium heading southeast, passed over a residence hall, navigated between two tall light poles and hit ground alongside RVs in an empty strip of land where kids are usually playing before Gator games.

The two men were taken to UF Health Shands Hospital for treatment, said Gainesville Fire Rescue Chief Gene Prince.

Prince said the crash happened about 4:05 p.m. The two men were alert when Fire Rescue crews arrived.

"They were toting a banner when the plane lost power. They jettisoned the banner because it's a big drag," Prince said "They knew they weren't going to make it so they made a decision that this might be the best place they could come down without hurting anybody."

Stump said no one else was hurt, adding UPD has tried since the 9/11 terrorist attacks to get banner planes restricted from pregame flights over campus.

"Every year since 9/11 we have talked to the (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board. We have asked for restricted airspace. Nobody wants to tackle that," Stump said. "The pilot did what appears to be as good of a job as he could in this dense of an area."

Records on the plane's registration number show it is a Cessna 172F Skyhawk built in 1965 and owned by Beach Banners Inc. of Jacksonville. A message left with the company Saturday evening was not returned.

Saturday's crash may not have been Hill's first close call. In a video posted on YouTube, a young Jacksonville pilot named Graham Hill explains how he was shot in the head by a stray bullet that hit the plane when he was flying over a New Year's Eve fireworks show in Jacksonville.

Stump said the plane will be left in place for the investigation. Alachua County sheriff's spokesman Art Forgey said the FAA contacted the head of ASO's aviation unit to ask that he collect information about the crash.

The phone greeting for a regional spokeswoman for the FAA said the phone line will not be monitored because of the government shutdown.

Gainesville Police Lt. Bruce Giles said the banner landed at 400 NW 20th St. No one was hurt, but some property damage occurred.

Crash witness Karen Guffey of Bartow, who was tailgating at an RV when the plane hit, said the incident was surreal.

"You didn't hear it coming. You didn't hear anything. The pilot should really be lauded," Guffey said. "It hit the ground, bounced and because it was going pretty fast, it hit a vehicle. Everybody ran down there and the two young men came out pretty fast. Security made us leave because of the fuel and a fear of fire. I ran back and got a rag because, being a mother, I wanted to take the blood off them. They were pretty bloody."

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