4 Dead In Florida Plane Collision

plane crash boca raton June 23 4 dead leer jet stunt plane
A Lear jet and a small stunt plane collided and crashed into a gated, golf course community Friday, killing the three people aboard the jet and the pilot of the second craft.

There were no injuries on the ground after the planes crashed and burned inside the country club community of Boca Grove Plantation and on the adjoining golf course, said Paul Miller, spokesman for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Department.

The cockpit and an engine from the Lear jet landed within feet of a three-story condominium and the building was damaged by the ensuing fire. Residents, mostly elderly, were evacuated.

Smaller debris floated down, landing on roofs and in yards in an area authorities said spanned about one mile. The tail section landed on the golf course's 17th tee.

Palm Beach County medical examiners were attempting to remove the bodies of the Lear jet pilot, co-pilot and a passenger Friday night. One forensics investigator at the scene said they were charred beyond recognition.

National Transportation & Safety Board officials planned to move all the debris to the golf hole where the rear of the Lear jet landed then later reconstruct it in a hangar.

The body of the smaller plane's pilot was found laying on a driveway in the subdivision, wrapped in a parachute, Miller said.

It is not clear whether his parachute had deployed, Miller said. Pilots flying stunt planes are required to wear parachutes.

The Lear jet took off from Boca Raton Airport at 11:40 a.m. and collided with the Extra 300 one-seater 90 seconds to two minutes later, according to Diane Gullo, spokeswoman for the Boca Raton Airport.

The Lear jet probably was flying at 1,000 to 1,500 feet and traveling at 184 mph when the planes collided, Gullo said.

The Extra 300 had taken off earlier from Pompano Beach Municipal Airport on a 12-minute flight to Willis Gliderport in Boynton Beach, about 10 miles to the northwest.

"It looked like the wings clipped," said golf shop employee Cliff Fedor.

The Lear jet then exploded and broke apart, witnesses said.

The Lear jet "looked like it split in half, the front half of the plane buckling underneath it and the thing basically dropped out of the sky like a rock," said Dean Kallan, who works in an office complex across the street.

Pilot Carlos Marrero, who had just landed at Boca Raton Airport, said he saw the jet's engine explode and the back third of the aircraft break off.

"It made me sick to my stomach," he said. "There was nothing we could do but watch."

There were about 30 players on the course when a large section of the plane crashed near the 17th tee, said Jack Shoenfelt, the Boca Grove Golf Course pro.

Golfer Edward Brill said a man and woman were about to tee-off when the planes fell.

"They said they didn't know which way to run," Brill said.

The jet was a Lear 55 owned by Universal Jt Aviation Inc., a Boca Raton company, federal records show. The twin-engine jet can carry up to 13 people. A woman who answered the phone at the company said "we're not making any statements right now."

The jet carried three Universal Jet employees—pilot Richard Smith, co-pilot Kevin Reyer and passenger William Bradley Moncrief. It was headed to Fort Pierce, about 80 miles to the north, to be painted, Miller said.

Rod Sirmeyer, a pool cleaner who was in the complex, said he heard the plane explode and then crash. He ran to the plane's cockpit and tried to put out the fire with a hose while some maintenance workers also sprayed it with a fire extinguisher. Small explosions continued for several minutes, he said.

The Extra 300 pilot was identified by friends and neighbors as John Lillberg, who lived at Willis Gliderport, a private grass air strip and community with homes and airplane hangars.

Lillberg had been a member of the U.S. Aerobatics team since 1991 and was a retired Pratt & Whitney engineer who had been flying since about 30 years.

"He performed for and held competitions here," said neighbor and fellow pilot John Lobb. "He was responsible. It's really a shock to us."