BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) — Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has identified the five people who died when a small twin-engine plane crashed shortly after taking off in heavy fog at Bartow Municipal Airport on Christmas Eve morning.
The pilot of the plane has been identified as 70-year-old John Shannon. Shannon is a prominent attorney in Lakeland.
He was flying with his two daughters, 24-year-old Olivia Shannon and 26-year-old Victoria Shannon-Worthington, as well as her husband 27-year-old Peter Worthington Jr. and family friend 32-year-old Krista Clayton.
All five were pronounced dead at the scene.
Sheriff Judd says the group arrived at the airport around 6:30 a.m. with cookies for the staff. They were going to spend Christmas Eve day in Key West and then head back Sunday night.
Judd said the plane crashed at the end of the airport’s main runway at 7:15 a.m. after attempting to take off in heavy fog.
“Clearly, no one should have tried a takeoff,” said Judd.
Judd said that a helicopter pilot with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office happened to be in a nearby hangar and heard the plane starting to take off and then heard the plane hit the ground.
“This is a very sad situation,” said Judd and added that he knew one person on the plane.
Judd speculated that the people on the plane were leaving to attend a holiday celebration.
“It is a tragedy any day of the week. It is an exceptional tragedy on Christmas Eve,” said Judd. “Our hearts go out to the family.”
He said a video exists that shows the plane crashing. Judd said he watched the video and it clearly indicated that no one should have been flying.
“There was no chance of survival,” Judd said. The plane caught fire after crashing. “The only thing you can say is nobody suffered.”
WFLA Storm Team Meteorologist Ed Bloodsworth said around the time of the crash, weather data at the airport was reporting zero visibility of less than 300 feet because of the fog. The weather data is from the Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS) which is located at the airport. The Tampa Bay area was under a dense fog advisory until 10 a.m. on Christmas Eve.
Deputies with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and firefighters with Polk County Fire Rescue responded to the scene. Firefighters were dispatched at 7:18 a.m. They had to drive carefully to the scene because of dense fog in the area. Firefighters arrived on scene at 7:31 a.m. and had the fire under control at 7:44 a.m.
The FAA said that the plane was a Cessna 340.
The FAA and the NTSB will investigate the crash. The NTSB will determine the probable cause of the accident. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is conducting the death investigation. Once local authorities release the names and conditions of those on board, the FAA will release the aircraft registration information.
The Bartow Municipal Airport is the former location of a U.S. Air Force Base and is also referred to as the Bartow Air Base. It is located just off of U.S. 17 near Spirit Lake Road.
The crash happened near the PCSO Aviation Unit Hangar, which is on Ben Durrance Road.
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