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Clearwater community stunned by plane crashing into home

Photo of a fire engulfing a mobile home, shot at night
Richard Renner
Three people were killed when a small plane crashed at a mobile home park in Clearwater on Feb. 1, 2024.

Police on Saturday released the names of the pilot and the two people on the ground who died after a small plane crashed into a waterfront community in Clearwater.

Richard Renner, a retired fire dispatcher, is used to dealing with emergencies. But never did he expect a plane to crash in the middle of his Clearwater neighborhood, killing the pilot and two people on the ground.

Bayside Waters is a waterfront residential community for those who are 55 and older. Renner said he and a friend were watching television when they heard what sounded like a boom that shook the windows. Renner jumped into his golf cart and sped the four blocks towards Pagoda Drive, where the plume of smoke was spiraling from.

“The house itself was gone by the time we got there. We were there before the fire department was there. And the house was already destroyed completely. You couldn't even see the airplane,” said Renner.

The small aircraft, identified by the Federal Aviation Administration as a Beechcraft Bonanza V35, had taken off from Vero beach earlier in the day. Around 7 p.m. authorities received a “mayday” signal from the pilot shortly before the plane plummeted from the air and into one of the manufactured homes.

Four homes around the site caught fire, according to the Clearwater Fire Department. Resident Joe Miller said he was blown off the bed when his trailer was torn apart, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

Police on Saturday released the names of those who died. The pilot, who was the only person on board, was Jemin Patel, 54, of Melbourne Beach. Martha Parry, 86, lived in the home that was struck at 2647 Pagoda Drive. Her friend Mary Ellen Pender, 54, of Treasure Island, was visiting Parry when the crash happened.

According to Clearwater police, as many as nine people had been inside the home before the crash.

The last of the guest had lingered to finish her drink, and she was in the home along with her host when it went up in flames, their Renner told The Associated Press.

Firefighters couldn’t immediately tell how many people were inside the double-wide mobile home. But Renner said he jumped in his golf cart and reached the crash site shortly before emergency crews arrived. He spoke with a neighbor across the street who had just left the party, and he checked to make sure other neighbors weren't in danger.

“It was just one big ball of flames,” Renner said. “You couldn’t even tell there was a mobile home there.”

The fact that most of the people in the home had left before the plane went down averted a far greater loss of life, Gandy said.

“Our thoughts are with the three victims and their families; this tragedy could have been even worse," said Police Chief Eric Gandy.

The Bayside Waters community is located a few miles north of the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and abuts the U.S. 19. Moments before the crash, Renner said he heard a noise resembling a motorcycle.

However, a friend, a fellow retiree from the police department in Buffalo, New York, called Renner to tell him a plane had crashed. “He listens to the police and fire scanner all the time,” said Renner. “We made sure everybody was out of the houses next door.”

Minutes after, at about 7:15 p.m., responders arrived on scene to put out the fire.

Renner had vacationed at his Bayside home every year for the past three decades and said the community there is close-knit.

“Everybody knows everybody,” he said. “We get together for dances, the Valentine's Day dance, Christmas, Thanksgiving dinner...The community is saddened.”

Renner said he has known one of the victims in the crash for years.

"I just saw her Wednesday night, we had a dinner at the clubhouse," he said.

He said the gathering’s host was a “snowbird” who spent her winters in the mobile home park for years.

“Everybody is shocked,” he said.

An investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Clearwater on Friday morning to document the scene and examine the aircraft, the agency said told The Associated Press.

The investigation will involve three primary areas — the pilot, the aircraft and the operating environment — and consider the flight track data, recordings of any air traffic control communications, the weather forecast and conditions at the time of the crash, witness statements and any surveillance video.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.