The pilot who was killed after crashing into Tampa Bay near Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg has been identified as 70-year-old Donald Thomasson.
Officials said the Piper PA25 crashed into the water around 3 p.m. Sunday about 75 yards south of the seawall at Albert Whitted Airport.
Thomasson was retrieved by divers and pronounced deceased at the scene. He was still strapped into the cockpit seat when his body was recovered, police said.
St. Petersburg police said the plane belongs to an advertisement banner towing company based at the airport.
According to witnesses, the pilot had just picked up a banner and was beginning to climb when a popping noise could be heard coming from the plane. The plane then appeared to nose down and crash into the water.
“Then the sign showed up and he was kind of straight up like that and it just barrel-rolled backwards twice and flipped over and went straight down,” said Frank Hobel, a witness.
The plane is owned by Aerial Banners Incorporated. It was fully submerged in about 25 feet of water overnight. Officials pulled it from the water and towed back to the airport Monday afternoon.
Thomasson's family released the following statement Monday morning.
"Don Thomasson was originally from Martinsville, VA who moved to Florida in the early 80s and fell in love with the beach. He was an avid pilot since his early 20s and his passion was flying. But what he loved most was his family. He was an exemplary and dedicated father, son, brother."
The NTSB is investigating the crash.