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The pilot in a Clearwater plane crash says he couldn't see the runway lights

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.

The preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board says the pilot was destined for Clearwater Air Park but couldn't see the airport during the nighttime flight. He crashed into a home about four miles away.

The pilot of a small aircraft said he could not see the runway at Clearwater Air Park before crashing into a home in a retirement community last month.

That's according to a preliminary report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The pilot, Jemin Patel, was killed in the crash along with Martha Parry, 86, and Mary Ellen Pender, 54, who were inside the home at the Bayside Waters retirement community.

RELATED: Clearwater community stunned by plane crashing into home

Patel was flying Beechcraft Bonanza V-35 out of Vero Beach and was scheduled to land at Clearwater Air Park on the night of Feb. 1.

Upon approach, the report — citing two people who were at the airport — states Patel radioed air traffic control to say he could not find the airport and asked that the runway lights be turned on.

Patel was told the lights were already on for an airplane that had just landed.

The individuals also said that "after the pilot requested a second time to turn the runway lights on, the pilot-controlled runway lighting was changed to the highest intensity," the report states.

A short time later, Patel reported a fire and said he was losing engine power.

According to the report, Patel stated "nine five lima" and said he was "coming to Albert Whitted (Airport in St. Petersburg) I can't see the other airport."

After telling the controller he was "losing engine," he was asked if he could see St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, which was three miles away, and was told he could land there.

Patel did not respond, according to the report.

The report cites a pilot who was flying nearby who said he saw Patel's plane nosedive in an "uncontrolled descent" and described the plane as a "very bright light."

Another witness reported seeing a "fireball" prior to the crash.

The plane crashed into a home about four miles from Clearwater Air Park.

The NTSB continues to investigate the crash.

I wasn't always a morning person. After spending years as a nighttime sports copy editor and page designer, I made the move to digital editing in 2000. Turns out, it was one of the best moves I've ever made.