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'They went down hard'

Beechcraft Bonanza strikes home in Clearwater, Florida; 3 dead

The pilot of a Beechcraft V35B Bonanza reported “I’m losing engine” 45 seconds before another pilot on the same frequency told air traffic control that the Bonanza had hurtled into a tight cluster of homes in Clearwater, Florida, at 7:06 p.m. Eastern time on February 1.

A Google Earth image overlaid with FlightAware ADS-B data shows the flight path of N6659L on February 1. Radio transmissions are indicated with approximate geolocation. Google Earth image/FlightAware and LiveATC.net data used for markings.

The pilot was identified by authorities on February 3 as Jemin Patel, 54, of Indianapolis, who died in the accident along with homeowner Martha Parry, 86, and Parry’s guest, Mary Ellen Pender, 54, of Treasure Island, Florida. Clearwater firefighters reported that as many as nine people had been in Parry’s home minutes before the airplane struck. The NTSB was expected to remove the wreckage, which was heavily damaged in a post-crash fire that also "heavily" damaged the home, on February 3. City firefighters reported "minor damage from heat and flames" to two adjacent homes.

According to FAA records, Patel held a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings, and a third class medical certificate issued in August 2022 with a corrective lens requirement.

Patel, who signed on with Tampa approach control (118.8 megahertz) at 6:53 p.m., according to recordings archived by LiveATC.net, soon reported difficulty locating the runway as he approached Clearwater Air Park Airport, the intended destination of an IFR flight that originated (with VFR conditions prevailing) at 6:07 p.m. from Vero Beach Regional Airport on the other side of the state.

The available recordings did not capture the air traffic controller’s side of the conversation. Transmissions from N6659L suggest the pilot may have become disoriented while attempting to locate a runway, at night, that he would pass within a half-mile of before turning away, according to time-stamped ADS-B data from FlightAware.

“Roger, we’re still looking, ah, we’ll have to switch to other frequency for the lights,” Patel told Tampa approach when he was 4.6 nautical miles from the intended runway, which would have then been at his 2 o’clock.

About 15 seconds later, Patel offered to cancel his instrument clearance to continue VFR, though he had not reported the runway in sight: “Uh, if there’s no traffic we can cancel with you, Five-Nine Lima,” Patel said. A few seconds later, he acknowledged “VFR,” and soon after that began a slight right turn toward the runway.

Civil twilight had ended at 6:35 p.m. in Clearwater on February 1, 18 minutes before Patel first signed on with Tampa approach.

Clearwater is on a heavily populated peninsula that separates Tampa Bay from the Gulf of Mexico, and the 4,108-foot Runway 34 that Patel sought but never apparently spotted is flanked by a golf course to the west, with airport hangars and commercial buildings to the east. According to FAA records, an automated weather station at Clearwater Air Park reported VFR conditions before and after the accident: calm wind, clear skies, and fair-weather air pressure, steady at 30.12 inches of mercury.

Additional transmissions followed Patel’s IFR cancellation on the same Tampa approach frequency, and it is not clear if or when Patel may have tuned his radio to the nontowered airport’s advisory frequency to activate the runway lights.

Descending through 900 feet at 7:01:37 p.m. as he turned toward the runway heading, Patel’s aircraft had already overshot the extended centerline before completing the turn to fly roughly parallel to Runway 34, continuing a few degrees off runway heading and descending to 600 feet, which held level as the Bonanza passed the runway, according to ADS-B data. The Bonanza’s course tracked about half a nautical mile west of the runway.

At 7:04 p.m., with the runway now behind at the Bonanza's 5 o'clock, Patel turned left, away from the airport, and began to climb, a turn that kept the Bonanza over land and heading away from the Gulf of Mexico.

At 7:05:44, with the Bonanza now flying southeast, a partially garbled transmission ended with the Bonanza’s abbreviated registration, spoken in an excited voice.

Six seconds later, a transmission was recorded that may start with “coming to” or “climbing to,” and continues, “Albert Whitted. I can’t see the other airport.” Clearwater Air Park’s runway was at about Patel’s 8 o’clock position at that moment.

At that moment, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, a Class D facility, was 4 nm straight ahead of the Bonanza; Albert Whitted Airport was about 13 nm south of his position. The Bonanza, turning past 180 degrees from runway heading on a teardrop course, had climbed to 1,400 feet and accelerated to 134 knots (GPS calculated groundspeed) around the time Patel re-crossed the extended centerline of Runway 34 to his north and reported, at 7:06:14: “I’m losing engine.”

Only three additional ADS-B returns were recorded by FlightAware over the remaining 44 seconds of the flight. The aircraft was level at 1,500 feet and flying at 100 knots eight seconds after Patel’s final audible transmission, then descending through 1,400 feet at a rate of 2,625 feet per minute, at 81 knots (GPS calculated groundspeed) 28 seconds later. The descent rate increased to 4,875 feet per minute at the final data point, 16 seconds later, with the aircraft groundspeed calculated at 123 knots, GPS altitude 100 feet.

More than one voice on the Tampa approach frequency reported the outcome to air traffic control:

An expletive was transmitted at 7:06:59, nearly coinciding with another voice reporting, “Tampa, Five-Nine-Lima just hit the ground really hard I see flames,” followed a few seconds later by the same voice saying, “Yes sir, I can … orbit this section, but they went down hard. They’re in flames.”

The pilot, flying a Cessna Skylane based on his call sign, told ATC he was about three miles away from the accident. “Looks like there’s a structure fire down there. Looks like he went into a building.”

Moments later, the same pilot, having overflown the accident site, reported heavy flames and smoke, and responded to an unrecorded query: “I could not, I just saw him going down at an extremely high rate of speed. Did not see any flames, just saw his lights going down.”

The accident flight was the Bonanza’s eleventh trip since November 13, according to FlightAware data. It flew from Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport, where the aircraft was likely based, to and from various destinations in Florida and Illinois, though the February 1 flight was the first to Clearwater during the period.

A Google Earth image overlaid with FlightAware ADS-B data shows the flight path of N6659L on February 1. Radio transmissions are indicated with approximate geolocation. Google Earth image/FlightAware and LiveATC.net data used for markings.
Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Accident, Night Flying

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