CLEARWATER — A piece of metal broke off a jet leaving St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport Sunday morning, but the aircraft turned around and landed safely about 8:40 a.m., according to investigators.
A Learjet 45 mid-size jet with two people on board took off from the airport on its way to Cape May County Airport in New Jersey, but a crew member reported a computer problem, according to Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration. Upon landing, air traffic controllers noticed the missing piece, she said.
A witness saw the piece, about 4 feet by 5 feet, break off about 8:30 a.m. Bergen said the fragment, which landed about four miles north of the airport, was a part of an engine cover.
Matthew Addison of Clearwater, a 35-year-old account manager, was just getting home from his morning run when he saw the white sheet of metal break off from the plane.
Addison said he hoped it was just a piece of cardboard or paper that happened to be in the sky at the same time.
"I started to realize, this is actually a piece of the airplane," he said.
He said the plane was flying low and heading north, away from the airport, as if it had just taken off. Addison watched the engine cover spin and fall near the Eddie C. Moore Softball Complex. He called 911, and Clearwater Police Department officers found it in the street.
Addison later saw police in a parking lot near the Best Buy on Drew Street after they had found the engine cover.
He said he was relieved to see another witness talking to police and pointing towards the sky.
"I'm not insane. I wasn't hallucinating," he said he thought to himself. Addison said the edges of the piece were jagged, as if it were ripped off.
Bergen said the FAA was still investigating the incident.
Contact Langston Taylor at [email protected] Follow @langstonitaylor