A small plane crashed into a trailer park in Clearwater, Florida on Thursday, resulting in multiple fatalities. The single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza V35 aircraft crashed into the Bayside Waters mobile home community located just south of Clearwater Mall around noon.
According to Clearwater Fire and Rescue, the plane struck one trailer directly and sparked fires in several others. While residents were home at the time, they were able to escape without injury. Fire crews quickly extinguished the blazes.
Clearwater Fire Chief Scott Ehlers told reporters that four trailers sustained heavy damage from the fires and three have been searched and confirmed to have no victims inside. Investigators are still attempting to access the trailer that was hit by the plane itself.
The pilot, who has not yet been identified, is presumed to have died in the crash. It is unknown how many additional passengers may have been aboard when the plane went down. However, Ehlers stated there were “several fatalities, both from the aircraft and within the mobile home.”
Prior to the crash, air traffic control recordings indicate the pilot had declared a distress signal or “mayday” and reported an engine failure. The plane rapidly descended and disappeared from radar shortly before slamming into the residential community.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has confirmed the aircraft was a Beechcraft Bonanza V35. This single-engine plane typically seats four to six people. Investigators will be looking into what caused the apparent engine failure and whether other factors may have contributed to the tragic accident.
Resident Susan Sweet told local media she was in her kitchen when she heard a loud bang and saw flames erupt from a neighbor’s home. “We heard a big thud. Didn’t know what it was. The trailer caught fire. The one next to it caught fire too.” Other witnesses described the plane diving straight down before hitting the ground.
Clearwater police evacuated surrounding homes due to fuel leaking from the wreckage. The busy roadways near the crash site were closed for much of the afternoon, impacting traffic in the densely populated suburban region.
Both the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have launched investigations into the cause of the crash. Experts will examine the aircraft’s maintenance records, the pilot’s qualifications, weather conditions, and other evidence. A preliminary report is expected within 10 days, but a full investigation could take a year or longer.
Trailer park resident Joanne Peck expressed disbelief over the devastating incident. I never thought a plane would crash into the neighborhood. It’s scary because you don’t know if more are going to fall out of the sky,” she told reporters.
Thursday’s crash comes just two weeks after a similar small plane accident killed two in nearby New Port Richey. While airplane crashes are relatively rare in the Tampa Bay region, this is the fifth incident in Florida this year involving private aircraft.