Fishing charter group rescues pilot forced to land plane in ocean

Pilot fished out of water after plane sinks about 3 miles off Mayport

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

MAYPORT, Fla. - A pilot forced to ditch in the Atlantic Ocean near Mayport after he lost the engine on his small plane Friday morning was quickly rescued from the water by a nearby fishing charter group.

"They were out fishing. Fortunately, I was on the menu," pilot Bart Albert said, taking a good-natured view of what could have been a harrowing experience.

Albert said he left Asheville, North Carolina, on Friday morning and was headed to Ormond Beach when he lost power to the engine about 10 miles offshore.

"There were some four-letter words that I don’t want to mention," Albert said of how he reacted. "There was a normal procedure that I followed; did all the mechanical checks and realized it wasn’t going to start."

He declared a mayday and headed toward land but had to ditch the plane in the water about 3 miles out.

“I had no power. As the plane was going forward, it was losing air speed, so I did the normal procedures," said Albert, who was the only person on the six-seater plane.

He brought the 1961 Beechcraft Bonanza down as gently as he could. He said the plane sank almost immediately, and he was left treading water without a life preserver.

"I got the door open before it got underwater and I couldn’t get it open, got out on the wing, and I couldn’t grab any belongings -- they went down with the (plane)," Albert said.

But within five minutes, a fishing charter captained by Don Dingman came to the rescue, pulling Albert out of the water.

Dingman, who is married to News4Jax meteorologist Rebecca Barry, said it was ironic that his boat was in the right place at the right time, because his charter had been delayed Friday morning by several hours.

Dingman said his charter group saw the plane coming down and a Navy helicopter hovering nearby. The chopper had responded to the mayday call.

Dingman, who hosts a children's fishing show called "Hook the Future," said at first they weren't sure what was happening with the plane and thought the pilot might be a smuggler.

But when the plane disappeared below the surface in about 8 seconds, they knew the pilot was in trouble and rushed over to help.

"Thank God we got him," Dingman said after his group safely deposited Albert back on land at Morningstar Marina, where the pilot was able to fill his family in on the unexpected adventure.

"On first contact (with my wife) I told her I had to land in Mayport, so I would not be making the landing in Ormond," Albert said. "Once we got on the beach, I told her where I (landed) in the water. I did not want to panic her, you know."

A Coast Guard crew was later called out to the crash site, and the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate. Boaters are being advised to steer clear of the area, in case some objects from the plane float to the surface. 

Albert said he's not sure they'll be able to salvage his plane.

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