Federal authorities are investigating a Christmas Eve private plane crash in Bartow, Florida, that killed all five people aboard.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters that the Cessna 340 crashed about 7:15 a.m. as it was taking off from Bartow Municipal Airport, just south of Lakeland, Florida. The plane was headed to Key West for a Christmas Eve day trip.
The plane crash killed Lakeland lawyer John Shannon, 70, who was piloting the plane, his daughters Victoria Shannon, 26, and Olivia, 24, Victoria’s husband Peter Worthington Jr., 27, and family friend Krista Clayton, a 32-year-old schoolteacher and mother of two young daughters.
Autopsies found that the four passengers died from blunt-force trauma. The cause of Mr. Shannon’s death was undetermined pending the results of toxicology tests. Authorities say that all those onboard the plane were killed upon impact.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continue to investigate the plane crash, but Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd indicated that pilot error may have been to blame.
“Clearly no one should have tried a takeoff from this airport at 7:15 this morning,” Sheriff Judd said after reviewing footage of the crash. “The airport was totally socked in with fog.”
He said the plane was taking off from south to north on the main runway and crashed at the north end of the airport near an aviation hangar.
“One of our helicopter pilots was in the hangar. (He) heard the plane starting to take off and thought to himself ‘My gosh. I can’t believe someone is trying to take off in this weather.’”
“He said it was just seconds later that he heard the change in the pitch of the blades and the impact at the north end of the airport. From all indications the plane was in the air and came back to the ground.”
Sheriff Judd said there was no chance of anyone surviving the crash.
According to WTSP-TV Tampa-St. Petersburg, Mr. Shannon graduated from Samford University School of Law in 1975. He made an unsuccessful run as a Republican for the Florida House of Representatives in 2014. He was a member of the Florida bar since 1975 and has held a private pilot’s license since October 2010.
WFLA Channel 8 Tampa reported that FAA records show that Mr. Shannon was instrument rated, meaning he was trained to fly without seeing the horizon, relying exclusively on the onboard instruments to navigate the aircraft.