Friday, December 18, 2020

Piper PA-28-140 Cherokee, N6978W: Accident occurred December 18, 2020 near Tampa International Airport (KTPA), Hillsborough County, Florida

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. 

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident. 

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Tampa, Florida 

LaGrand Aviation LLC

Location: Tampa, FL
Accident Number: ERA21LA081
Date & Time: December 18, 2020, 13:22 Local
Registration: N6978W
Aircraft: Piper PA28 
Injuries: 3 Serious
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Instructional

On December 18, 2020, at 1322 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-140 airplane, N6978W, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident near Tampa, Florida. The flight instructor and two student pilots were seriously injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 instructional flight.

The instructor and two student pilots departed Tampa International Airport (TPA), Tampa, Florida around 0900. The airplane landed and was refueled at Zephyrhills Municipal Airport (ZPH), Zephyrhills, Florida, about 25 nm northeast of TPA, and departed for TPA around 1307.

Review of preliminary air traffic control (ATC) communications revealed that the airplane was cleared to land on runway 1R at TPA. About two and a half minutes later, the instructor radioed, “78W, we’re declaring an emergency. We’ve got an engine failure. We’re gonna try and make it.” No additional communications were received from the flight. Video surveillance footage from a nearby business showed that that airplane yawed left immediately before striking a utility pole and wires in a business parking lot about .6 nm from the runway threshold. The airplane exploded upon impact with the power lines, spun counter-clockwise, and fell to the ground.

The airplane came to rest upright next to the parking lot. Photographs provided by first responders revealed that most of the wings and fuselage were consumed by fire. The empennage remained intact, but the forward section of the horizontal stabilator and vertical stabilizer exhibited thermal discoloration. In addition, the right horizontal stabilator was bent up about midspan. The engine remained partially attached to the firewall and the cowling was consumed by fire. The propeller remained attached to the engine and the spinner was impact crushed aft.

The wreckage and engine were recovered and will be examined.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Piper 
Registration: N6978W
Model/Series: PA28 140 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: VMC 
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KTPA,11 ft msl
Observation Time: 12:53 Local
Distance from Accident Site: 1 Nautical Miles 
Temperature/Dew Point: 14°C /-1°C
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 5 knots / , 20°
Lowest Ceiling: None 
Visibility: 10 miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.3 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Departure Point: Zephyrhills, FL (KZPH)
Destination: Tampa, FL

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 2 Serious 
Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Passenger Injuries: 1 Serious 
Aircraft Fire: On-ground
Ground Injuries: 
Aircraft Explosion: On-ground
Total Injuries: 3 Serious
Latitude, Longitude: 27.955283,-82.52836 (est)  

Danay Pérez, left, listens to Jorge Lugo, center, talk about the small plane that made a fiery crash in the Westshore area on Friday next to coworker Miguel Montero, right. Three men survived the crash, and Lugo said he dragged a badly injured survive away from the burning wreckage.


TAMPA, Florida — A small plane lost engine power Friday and attempted to make an emergency landing at Tampa International Airport — but didn’t make it.

Instead the Piper Cherokee 140 crashed in an industrial area about a mile from the airport, west of Jefferson High School.

The single prop plane knocked down a power pole and power lines as it came down. The fiery wreckage came to rest at the corner of W Nassau Street and N Ward Street about 1:24 p.m.

Smoke filled the air over the Westshore area and Tampa police said it received a flood of 911 calls reporting the crash.

Three men were seriously injured in the crash, officials said. The plane was engulfed in flames when a Tampa police officer arrived soon after the crash. The three men onboard had already made it out of the plane and were taken to the hospital.

But no one on the ground was injured and no buildings were damaged, either.

“It’s amazing. It’s miraculous,” said Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Penny. “Any other adjectives you want to use to describe what happened here.”

Jorge Lugo said he heard a loud bang and then lost power at his workplace, Sonic Transportation and Logistics at 5002 W Nassau St.

He ran outside to see a ball of fire and three injured men who had already made it out of the wreckage.

“When you see people on fire, your instincts really just kick in,” the 38-year-old said. “You don’t even think.”

Lugo said he jumped over a line of bushes and ran over to help. The men were all in shock and suffered from burns. One appeared to be badly injured, his pants on fire and unable to use his legs. Lugo said he dragged him a safe distance away from the burning plane.

Some bystanders thought they were far enough away, but Lugo didn’t, fearing the plane could explode.

The Piper Cherokee’s airport of origin and its destination were not known. Earlier that day the plane stopped at Zephyrhills Municipal Airport to refuel, a city official said, then took off again.

When the plane lost engine power, officials said the pilot radioed the Tampa International control tower and declared an emergency. Airport fire crews started preparing for a possible crash landing. But the plane ended up going down about a mile short of the airport.

Lugo said he talked to one of the survivors to make sure he didn’t pass out before medical help arrived. He said the man told him that there was a student pilot onboard and also said the engine failed while they were in the air.

Officials did not release the names of the three men aboard the plane. The men are ages 58, 24 and 23. All suffered second- to third-degree burns, officials said, and so far two have been diagnosed with broken bones.

The men were reported to be in critical but stable condition at Tampa General Hospital.

Utility crews spent the rest of Friday repairing power lines to restore power to the buildings affected by the crash. The Federal Aviation Administration could not be reached for comment.

TAMPA, Florida - A small plane radioed to Tampa International Airport about an in-flight engine failure this afternoon, then crashed just south of the runway, injuring three people.

According to police and airport officials, the Piper Cherokee was heading to Tampa from Zephyrhills when the pilot asked to make an emergency landing just after 1 p.m.  Rescue crews staged along the runway in anticipation.

"That plane never came, at least not to the grounds of the airfield," Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Penny said.

Instead, a column of smoke began rising about a mile to the south. The plane had clipped a power pole and crashed at North Ward Street and West Nassau Street, just short of the airport’s secondary north-south runway. 

The view from SkyFOX moments later showed the small white plane on fire as crews worked to douse the flames.

All three men aboard the plane -- ages 58, 24, and 23 -- had climbed out of the wreckage as the first Tampa police officer arrived on scene; they were taken to the hospital in critical, but stable, condition.

Police say all suffered second- to third-degree burns, while two also suffered broken bones. The third victim was still being evaluated.

The only damage on the ground appeared to be some downed power lines at the crash site.

"It’s amazing, it’s miraculous, any other adjectives you want to use to describe what happened here because there was no damage and no injuries to anyone on the ground, minimal damage to property in the area and TECO is out here fixing that already," Penny offered.

Federal officials will take over the investigation into the cause of the crash.


A small plane crashed Friday afternoon near Tampa International Airport.

According to Tampa Fire Rescue, it happened around 1:23 p.m.

There were three men on board the Piper Cherokee, and officials say they were all outside the plane by the time the first Tampa Police officer arrived at the scene. All three were rushed to the hospital as trauma alerts with second to third degree burns. Two suffered broken bones.

No one on the ground was hurt.

“It’s amazing. It’s miraculous…There were no injuries to people on the ground, minimal damage to property in the area,” Tampa Fire Rescue Spokesperson Jason Penny said during a news conference.

He explained that the pilot had radioed a distress call to air traffic control, and fire rescue personnel were staged on the runway in anticipation of an emergency landing.

An airport spokesperson said the plane had taken off from Zephyrhills.

The crash happened less than a mile from the airport, not far from two schools – Jefferson High School and Roland Park Magnet. Hillsborough County Schools told Spectrum News neither school will be disrupted.

Tampa Fire rescue says the plane struck a power line, and several outages were reported. TECO shut off power to the surrounding area while crews make repairs.

Electrician Leonardo Dominguez shot video and you can hear him say he's willing to risk his life to rescue the people inside that plane.

“We need to go see if anybody needs help,” he said.

“Wow, wow, wow, they got them out already."

"Oh, they got them out?" 

Dominguez says other witnesses pulled the men from the burning plane just in time.

"Oh, they're heroes. One more second and they would've been dead because that flame was getting bigger by the second, and it was popping and electricity was falling in there. They're blessed I would say,” he said.

Witness Steven Oliver said he saw the men who were in the plane and they were badly burned and injured. 

"There were three other guys off to the side and they were just on the ground. They were unconscious and one had a lot of blood all over him and people were tending to them,” Oliver said.

Dominguez says it looked like the pilot was trying to land on Ward Street North when he clipped some power lines.

“He was trying to get it right dead center, and once he lost a little bit of control that was it,” he said. “He hit that line and that was the explosion right there. It's a blessing though that they didn't die and that it didn't hurt anybody else. It could've been a lot worse." 

Police said the men are 58, 24 and 23 years old. They are listed in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital.

The NTSB has been notified and will take over the crash investigation.


TAMPA, Florida — Three men were taken to the hospital as trauma alerts following a fiery small plane crash Friday afternoon in Tampa.

Tampa Police said the crash happened at N Ward Street and W Laurel Street, which is near Tampa International Airport and several hotels. 

Tampa Fire Rescue said three men were on board the small piper aircraft, which was heading toward TPA. No one on the ground was injured.

But the three passengers aboard the aircraft are said to have suffered from second to third-degree burns in the crash, according to the Tampa Police Department. Officers also say two of the men have multiple broken bones. All are reported to be alert at this time.

Tampa Fire's Jason Penny said crews were already stationed on a runway at the airport after the plane's pilot radioed the tower to say the aircraft was having an emergency, which turned out to be emergency engine failure ahead of the crash, according to officers.

Penny said it's not yet known what was happening with the plane leading up to the crash.

Tampa Fire said a Tampa police officer was stationed nearby and was the first person on the scene following the crash. The officer was able to see the three men on board exit the plane before it became fully engulfed in flames.

"It's amazing, it's miraculous," Penny said, noting that it's a good sign the three men were able to walk away from the crash.

Emily Nipps with Tampa International Airport said based on Flight Aware information, the plane was coming from Zephyrhills. She also said the plane is a Piper Cherokee 140.

As it crashed, Tampa Fire said the plane hit some power lines and pulled a power pole close to the ground. Penny said TECO is now on scene making repairs to the lines. No buildings were impacted in the crash.

The crash investigation is now being handled by the National Transportation Safety Board.


  1. How does anyone survive a plane crash that looks like that? Miraculous.

    1. In unedited/raw video between 0:09 to 0:14 you can see the three gentlemen alongside the building.

    2. Let's hope for a quick recovery. ⚕️🙏✝️

    3. Less miracle and more physics - the wires arrested their forward acceleration and bled the energy enough to reduce G forces to a survivable level. Got out before the plane became fully engulfed.

    4. And the airplane severed the pole just below the top two T-arms, which are visible on the ground in the post-fire photos.

      Photo of pole before crash:

  2. Corner of N. Ward and W. Nassau, almost reached runway 1R:

  3. Those electric wires and poles are the major cause of accidents. This cherokee could perfectly land at any street or parking lot, only if those electric wires were underground instead of hanging from those poles. Oh well....nice job anyway, at least they are alive.