ST. PETERSBURG — Alphonsine Dean was driving and listening to her grandson when she saw it: a small airplane above that was too low.
"This plane was falling from the sky," said Dean, 63.
The aircraft, a twin-engine Cessna 402B, made an emergency landing on 18th Avenue S near 16th Street about 3:45 p.m., according to St. Petersburg Fire Rescue. On its way down, the plane hit trees and power lines on the southern side of the road, and then hit Dean's Mercury Mountaineer and another sport utility vehicle. She and others described a brief burst of flames.
All five people involved — the two aboard the plane and the three people in the two vehicles — survived.
"I can't believe this happened," Dean said from an emergency room where her daughter took her to be checked out after the crash. "It was something you see in the movies. But it happened in real life."
It was unclear what forced the plane, which Fire Rescue Lt. Steve Lawrence said was headed for Albert Whitted Airport, to land on the street. The Federal Aviation Administration was expected to visit the scene Wednesday night. The spot where the plane came to rest was almost perfectly in line with, and about 1.5 miles short of, Runway 7 at Whitted. Both of its wings were intact, though the propellers were badly mangled and the landing gear was collapsed under the fuselage.
Lawrence praised the pilot for minimizing the damage on the ground. No buildings were touched. "I believe the pilot realized they were having some kind of issue with the aircraft and decided to land on the roadway rather than into someone's house," he said. "So the pilot did a good job."
Dean, a customer service representative for SuperShuttle, said the impact with the plane caused her to hit her head on a door pillar. She managed to escape through the passenger door and got her 3-year-old grandson out of the car and ran.
"When I got a safe distance, I just fell down," Dean said. "And I thanked God."
FAA records show the plane is registered to Noble Air Charter Inc. in Opa-locka. A person who answered a call to the company declined to comment. The plane is featured in the banner image on the company's website.
The plane completed a flight from Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport to Tallahassee International earlier Wednesday, according to flightaware.com, a company that tracks aircraft movement. No flight plan was listed for the flight that ended in the emergency landing.
Dozens of people arrived on the scene to get a glimpse of the plane in the street. Many remarked how fortunate everything turned out. Dean, too.
"It could have been a lot worse," she said. "That street is normally busy at that time of day with people picking up their kids from school."
Times staff writer Zachary T. Sampson and senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.