911 callers detail moments before deadly plane crash near Hilliard

One woman told the 911 operator that the engine was smoking

HILLIARD, Fla. – A series of 911 calls paint a picture of what witnesses saw and heard moments before a 74-year-old pilot died in a plane crash Monday north of Hilliard.

One of the witnesses told News4Jax she saw the single-engine plane fly over the top of the trees before it crashed around 2:30 p.m. Monday in the woods off Trinity Lane near County Road 121. The witness also said it sounded like the engine was stalling, and based on the audio of the 911 calls released Tuesday, it appears investigators could be focusing their attention on the plane’s engine.

Moments before the crash, multiple people called 911 to report what they witnessed. One woman gave the 911 operator specific details about the condition of the plane as it descended into the wooded area.

911 caller: “I literally looked up and saw it coming out of the sky, and the engine was smoking and it had black smoke coming out of it.”

911 operator: “You heard it hit the ground?”

911 caller: “Yes, ma’am. I heard it hit the trees then hit the ground.”

Another woman who called 911 gave the operator information that also points toward the possibility of the plane having engine problems.

“It was spitting and sputtering then we saw it nosedive," she can be heard saying during the call.

The same woman called 911 again moments later to let the operator know that she located the plane wreckage.

“Just hurry. It’s smoking bad. Please hurry!" said the woman, who also told the operator that the pilot was stuck inside the burning plane.

Firefighters responded to put out the blaze. Once the fire was out, first responders pronounced the pilot dead at the scene.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the aircraft that crashed was a Van’s RV-8 — a single-engine, experimental plane that owners can build from a kit. According to News4Jax aviation expert Ed Booth, that specific aircraft line has an admirable record, but the safety record on experimental or homebuilt planes, in general, is not as good as a certified single-engine plane such as a Cessna or a Piper.

Given the new information about the engine, Booth said he believes investigators will look at this as being caused by an engine fire or engine stoppage for undetermined reasons.

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