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Florida beach-goers shocked to see WW II-era plane crash offshore during air show

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The pilot of a World War II-era fighter plane was forced to make an emergency landing in the water in Cocoa Beach during an air show on Saturday after he appeared to have engine trouble.

The aircraft, a TBM Avenger that was flying with the Warbirds multi-plane demonstration team, splashed down about 15 feet offshore, as documented by several videos posted online. The crash occurred nearly Patrick Air Force Base.

Every one is ok!!

Posted by Brett Nyquist on Saturday, April 17, 2021

Chris Dirato, an official with the air show, told local media that no one was injured. Rescue personnel were on-scene right away but the unidentified pilot was also uninjured, WFTV reported. Brevard County Fire Rescue said the pilot refused any medical treatment.

“The TBM Avenger performing in the warbird parade had a mechanical issue and the pilot was able to bring the plane down close to the shore. Rescue personnel were immediately on scene and the pilot is OK,” according to Cocoa Beach Air Show officials noted in a statement.

Video shows the pilot controlling the plane as it descends, with audio indicating the engine was sputtering as the propeller all but stops functioning.

Eventually, the power gave out altogether and the pilot managed to make a “soft” skid landing into the water as beachgoers looked on.

“He was sputtering down the beach and I was like, ‘Oh he doesn’t sound good,’ and I just started filming,” Melanie Schrader of Melbourne, Fla., told USA Today.

“It looked like (the pilot) pulled up at the last moment and avoided any spectators, there were loads of people on the water, and then I saw him on top of the plane. It looked like he was OK,” she said.

The TMB Avenger was the largest single-engine fighter/bomber used by the United States during the Second World War, making its debut with the Navy as a carrier-based torpedo bomber in 1941. Land-based versions were also produced.

Each plane had a crew of three: A pilot, a bombardier who also served as the radar operator, and a tail gunner who doubled as the radioman. The planes were produced with Wright Cyclone air-cooled engines that consisted of 14 cylinders in a double row that generated about 1,900 horsepower.

Following the war, many of the planes went on to serve as fire bombers by the U.S. Forestry Service and other related agencies in Canada and elsewhere.

The plane that crashed Saturday afternoon was built in 1945. It was eventually utilized by the Forest Service as a fire bomber from 1956 to 1964 in Davis, Calif., before going on to serve with the Georgia Forestry Service as a fire bomber as well, USA Today reported.

Afterward, the plane was restored over a period of 18 years by Titusville, Florida-based Valiant Air Command. The plane was returned to flight in January 2020.

“I saw a video of it — and it just made me think of what Sully did in the Hudson River,” Air Show Chairman Bryan Lilley noted, a reference to the heroic 2009 landing of a commercial airliner, US Airways Flight 1549, in the Hudson River in New York by pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

He was forced to land the plane after both engines had been taken out by a bird strike. All 155 people aboard the plane survived.

“It was incredible. What skill by that pilot,” Lilley told USA Today, going on to say he felt for the Valiant Air Command after having just returned the plane to the air.

“I feel really bad for them. They just got done restoring that (plane). They put so much time into it,” he said, adding that he was glad the pilot was uninjured.

Jon Dougherty

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