Customer Describes Plane Crash at Florida Supermarket

Firefighters and investigators were expected Tuesday to inspect the damage at a central Florida supermarket where a small experimental plane crashed in flames through the roof, injuring five people.

Initial reports indicated the problem was mechanical, DeLand Mayor Robert Apgar told the Orlando Sentinel.

Three customers were hurt when the plane plunged into the Publix at the Northgate Shopping Center around 7:20 p.m. Monday, said Dwaine Stevens, a spokesman for the Florida-based Publix supermarket chain.

Two people aboard the plane remained hospitalized in Orlando.

“The pilot and co-pilot were both amazingly able to get out of the plane and out of the store,” Pat Kuehn of the Volusia County Fire Services told local station WFTV.

Lisa Cordova said she was thrown to the floor when the plane crashed into the meat department of the Publix in DeLand, about 40 miles north of Orlando.

“It was like something had exploded in the store,” Cordova told the Orlando Sentinel after being released from Florida Hospital DeLand. “The roof just started shaking. All the lights went out. Everybody was just screaming.”

People inside the store didn’t know what had happened until they made their way through the smoke and got outside, Cordova said.

“The store has suffered heavy damage inside. When firefighters arrived they encountered heavy black smoke and flames and it took over an hour to get the fire under control,” Kuehn said.

Cordova said she saw one man trying to extinguish flames on his leg before someone pushed her out of the store.

“He was just pulling layers and layers of his skin off his leg,” said Cordova. “Someone grabbed me and pushed me out of the store. I was like, `I can’t leave him there.”‘

Two other customers were expected to be treated and released, Florida Hospital DeLand spokeswoman Diane Maimone said.

Police identified the other customers as April Morris of DeLand and Stetson University student Brendan Beitler. Both were hospitalized in stable condition, police said.

Beitler’s father told WFTV that his son said the explosion sent a wall of fire through the store. The flames singed the hair on the college student’s arms and set his leg on fire.

“He literally said, ‘I am on fire, somebody help me,”‘ Douglas Beitler said. He said his son was airlifted to an Orlando hospital but he would be OK.

WFTV also reported that Publix employees who declined to be identified described seeing the pilot and a passenger climb from the plane with their clothing on fire. A manager in the meat department was able to put out the fire in their clothes and rush them outside for help, the station reported.

Bystanders said the plane showed signs of trouble moments before it hit the roof of the supermarket.

The plane had taken off from the DeLand Municipal Airport, less than two miles from the shopping center, DeLand Police Sgt. Chris Estes said.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration said the agency did not provide air traffic services for the flight and had no information on the plane, its flight or those aboard.