A Christmas Eve getaway turned into a holiday tragedy on Sunday for one Florida lawyer and his family.
John Shannon along with his two daughters, Olivia and Victoria, the latter’s husband Peter Worthington, Jr. and Krista Clayton, a family friend, piled into his twin-engine Cessna 340 plane at Bartow Municipal Airport early Sunday morning to head to Key West for the day.
They pulled out of the hangar around 6:30 a.m. took off at about 7:15 a.m. but almost immediately afterward, the plane fell back to the ground and caught fire. The crash killed Shannon and his four passengers on or immediately after impact.
“There was no chance of survival—ever,” Polk Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters. “The crash is so horrific that no one suffered,” he added. "This is an absolutely horrific tragedy, especially on Christmas Eve. Please keep these victims and their family members in your prayers."
According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, which will investigate the deaths, the cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but it was likely related to the heavy fog, which brought visibility down to near zero. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash. The medical examiner will confirm the identities of the victims and autopsies will determine the precise causes of death, the sheriff’s office said.
A photographer who was trying to capture images of the foggy morning ended up recording the crash. “He said, ‘I couldn't believe that they were taking off in this fog,’” said Judd, who explained that authorities now have the video. “There was not one sign of the aircraft that was, obviously, was soaked in a very dense, very heavy fog at the airbase.”
Here’s what we know about the victims of the crash so far:
John Shannon, 70, was an attorney in Lakeland, Florida, who worked on serious injury, death and insurance claims cases, according to his website. A former marine, he got his private pilot’s certificate in 2010 and flew supplies to Key West, Sunday’s destination, after Hurricane Irma. He ran for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives in 2014 but lost.
He was also president of the Republican Club of Lakeland, bringing in speakers in the last year to discuss infrastructure and other issues. “He wanted to see Lakeland thrive,” Chad Davis, the club’s vice president, told the Tampa Bay Times, and felt voters “needed to know more about the issues and not just the people that are running.”
At the local Kiwanis Club, Shannon was “the kind of member that every volunteer club needs and wants,” Barbara Nivala, the club’s secretary, told the Tampa Bay Times. “I sometimes would think, ‘As an attorney, how in the world did he have enough time to do that?’”
Olivia Shannon, 24, was a student at Southeastern University in Lakeland.
Victoria Shannon Worthington, 26, was fourth-grade teacher at Baltimore International Academy in Baltimore.
Peter Worthington Jr., 27, was a third-year law student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Krista Clayton, 32, was a teacher at Jewett Academy in nearby Winter Haven.
On Sunday afternoon, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office tweeted that “our agency has nothing else to release regarding the #BartowPlaneCrash. @FAANews and @NTSB_Newsroom will release any further info about the crash. Autopsies will be done later this week & we will release causes of death once they are.”
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