A small plane crashed shortly after takeoff Friday afternoon at the Ocala International Airport, injuring the pilot, the plane’s lone occupant.
Ocala Police Department officials said pilot Helen Helpling was airlifted to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville with burns to her arms and legs — injuries that were said to be non-life-threatening.
According to eyewitness Danny Wilson, the red plane, which had a silver prop, taxied downed the runway past him and his grandson, who were sitting in a car in the airport’s parking lot, then turned and soared into the air. He said it was not more than 50 feet in the air when the wings turned vertically and the plane nose-dived into the ground.
Wilson said at first there was a lot of dust, then he heard an explosion and saw a ball of fire.
“It was a heck of a fire,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that he and his 2½-year-old grandson often visit the airport to watch takeoffs and landings because the toddler is fascinated with airplanes. He said on average, they stay in the parking lot up to two hours.
Matt Grow, director of the airport, said he was alerted to the crash at 3:45 p.m. Grow said the pilot was on Runway 26. He said the plane was an experimental single-engine light sport aircraft. It crashed approximately 1,500 feet south of the runway, Grow said.
Grow said the main runway at the airport remained opened, and the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board were notified about the crash. He said FAA officials will be on site this morning, and NTSB officials would likely arrive here in a couple of days.