NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — A small plane collided with a vehicle while trying to make an emergency landing on Interstate 75 in southwest Florida Friday afternoon, bringing traffic to a standstill and killing two people amid a plume of black smoke. Died. into the air.
The crash occurred near the Pine Ridge Road exit in Collier County, just north of where the interstate heads east toward Fort Lauderdale on what is known as Alligator Alley.
Brianna Walker saw the plane’s wing drag the car in front of her and slam into a wall.
“It was only a few seconds that separated us from the car in front of us,” she said. “The wing shattered this one car.”
Walker and a friend spotted the plane just before it hit the highway, and the friend was able to stop the car before it crashed.
“The plane was inches above our heads,” she said. “I made a sudden right turn and crossed the highway.”
Walker said the plane then erupted in flames with a loud bang. Debris from the plane littered the highway.
“It feels like a movie, it feels unreal,” she said. “We were seconds away from death.”
The Federal Aviation Administration identified the plane as a Bombardier Challenger 600 and said there were five people on board when it crashed around 3:15 p.m.
The plane took off from the Ohio State University Airport in Columbus, Ohio, around 1 p.m. and was scheduled to land in Naples around the time of the crash, Naples Airport Authority spokeswoman Robin King said. The pilot reported to the tower that he had lost both engines and requested an emergency landing. The tower lost contact, and then airport personnel saw smoke from the interstate just a few miles away.
King said a fire engine filled with special foam was dispatched to the scene and three of the five people on board were extracted alive from the wreckage.
Collier County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Adam Fisher confirmed both deaths, but said it was not immediately known whether the victims were passengers on the plane or on the ground.
The plane was operated by Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Hop-A-Jet Worldwide Charter, according to FlightAware aircraft tracking equipment. The plane was scheduled to return to Fort Lauderdale on Friday afternoon. Hop-A-Jet did not immediately respond to email and phone calls seeking comment.
An Ohio State University spokesperson said the aircraft was not affiliated with the university and had no further information.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate, with the NTSB leading the investigation. One NTSB investigator arrived at the crash scene Friday afternoon, and several more are expected to arrive Saturday. They document the scene and inspect the aircraft, which is then transported to a secure facility for further evaluation. A preliminary report on the cause of the crash is expected to be released within 30 days.
The southbound lanes of the interstate were closed and motorists were advised to seek alternative routes, the Florida Highway Patrol said in a news release.