VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) — Two men and two women were killed when a single-engine aircraft crashed into the Gulf of Mexico shortly after taking off from an airport in Venice Wednesday night.
Authorities said the Piper PA-32R aircraft crashed about a half-mile off the Venice Fishing Pier after taking off from Venice Municipal Airport around 9:38 p.m.
The bodies of 64-year-old pilot William Jeffrey Lumpkin, and 60-year-old Ricky Joe Beaver, were recovered after the crash Wednesday evening, however, the wreckage was not found until after sunrise.
“At 11:56 am, divers located the main portion of the aircraft, as well as two bodies,” Venice Police Captain Andy Leisenring said.
The bodies are believed to be those of 68-year-old Patricia Ann Lumpkin, and 57-year-old Elizabethe Anne Beaver. The plane was reportedly under 23 feet of water.
“Certainly our hearts go out to them as they deal with the tragedy,” Leisenring said.
Leisenring said the four flew from an airport in St. Petersburg to the Venice Municipal Airport Wednesday around 5 p.m. The group paid a parking fee at the airport, then enjoyed dinner with friends at an area restaurant.
Shortly after taking off from Venice to return to St. Petersburg, the plane crashed. The director of the Venice Airport said the weather was clear at take off and there were no issues at the airport.
“I’ve been working here for 16 years and the last crash was the first crash that went off into the Gulf like that,” Leisenring said. “So to have two [crashes] in a short period of time is unusual. But it is too early to make any conclusions. It could be two completely unrelated causes. We just don’t know yet.”
“We don’t have a control tower at the airport,” the director said, “so the runway that is used is up to the pilot, so it is up to them which runway they are going to use. Usually, that is based on the direction of the winds.”
The director added the runway used by the pilot was the runway most favorable for takeoff conditions.
When asked what his reaction was to the news of the crash, the representative said, “gut-wrenching.”
The crash is very similar to one that claimed the lives of Christian Kath, 42, his wife Misty Kath, 43, and their daughter Lily, 12.
A preliminary report from the NTSB on that incident found the Piper Aircraft, flown by Christian Kath, took off with a very low angle of climb and flew into dark conditions with no visible horizon.
Don Boccaccio said he is a pilot with 45 years of experience and often flies out of the Venice airport, but he will not take off out over the Gulf at night.
“I purposely don’t fly in this direction,” Boccaccio said. “You have no horizon at all, it’s a complete black hole.”
Boccaccio said flying under those conditions can be very dangerous.
“You get disoriented, you have no way of knowing which way is up or down or sideways, you just don’t and you think you do,” he said. “You have this false sense of security, but you could be turning left and down and you wouldn’t even know it.”
It will now be up to the NTSB to investigate this crash and determine the cause.