ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – It could be more than a year before the National Transportation Safety Board reveals why a small plane carrying a family from St. Petersburg crashed into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Venice.
Over the weekend, 42-year-old Christian Kath, his 43-year-old wife Misty Kath and their 12-year-old daughter Lily flew from Albert Whitted Airport in St. Pete to Venice, but they never made it back.
Three days after the plane crash, the search for the father continues. Authorities identified him as the pilot of the rented Piper Cherokee aircraft that crashed shortly after takeoff from the Venice airport.
This tragedy hits close to home for licensed pilot Jerrid Velte.
”Because my family is almost identical to this family, similar ages,” Velte said. “We like to fly for fun just like this family was.”
Velte flies a similar single-engine aircraft out of the Venice Airport.
“I love flying at night,” he said. “It’s calm out. There’s not a lot of other traffic. It’s peaceful.”
Velte shared with News Channel 8 data from Flight Aware that shows Kath’s rental plane only reached an altitude of 135 feet before disappearing from the radar. The data shows he took off from a runway that departs right over the gulf.
“I’ll never forget the first time I did it,” Velte said. “I’m lucky to be here. I almost lost it.”
Velte explained why it can be dangerous for pilots to take off from that runway after dark.
“You don’t have any way of your brain knowing what’s up or down because you can’t see the horizon,” he said. “There’s no boat lights underneath you. There’s no city lights.”
As the NTSB tries to determine what went wrong, investigators will look into Kath’s pilot experience, weather conditions and whether the plane had a mechanical problem.
“My takeaway already is I want to go back and do more of those takeoffs and get myself better if I’m going to put my family back in my plane and do that,” Velte said.
Records show Kath received his pilot’s license last July.
The NTSB is transporting the plane’s wreckage to Jacksonville as part of its investigation.