National Transportation Safety Board investigates fatal airplane crash off St. Augustine runway

Aerobatics pilot Maryanne Fox
Aerobatics pilot Maryanne Fox

Questions remain a week after a stunt plane crashed into marshland as the pilot attempted an emergency landing at the Northeast Florida Regional Airport in St. Augustine.

Local first responders rescued the pilot, Maryanne Fox, 49, of Corvalis, Oregon, who was pulled from the aircraft in critical condition before 6 p.m. March 2, according to Greta Hall, a spokeswoman for St. Johns County Fire Rescue.

Fox succumbed to her injuries hours after being transported to Flagler Hospital.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating the accident.

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What happened?

Fox was flying an Extra NG, an aerobatics plane she was familiar with, and, according to the website FlightAware, she had registered a 4:45 p.m. departure from Keystone Heights with St. Augustine as her destination.

In its incident report, Florida Highway Patrol stated authorities received word of the crash at 4:57 p.m.

Fox reported loss of power and smoke in the cockpit approaching the airport, said NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson.

"She radioed in that she had an engine problem, after which air traffic control declared an emergency," Knudson said.

According to reports, Jim Bourke, a fellow aerobatics pilot and Fox's fiancé, was traveling in formation with her and also called in to report what he observed from the air.

Fox was cleared to land by tower controllers but her aircraft went off the end of the runway, coming to rest upside down in a swampy marsh about 600 yards from the runway.

"She attempted the runway and ended up over-running it," Knudson said.

According to Hall, Fox stayed on the phone with 911 dispatchers until emergency responders from SJCFR, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, St. Augustine Fire Department, Florida Wildlife Commission and Florida Highway Patrol reached her.

SJCFR reported that responders arrived on scene at the airport at 5:05 p.m.; they finally reached Fox at 5:44 p.m.

An airboat owned by the St. Johns County Airport Authority — one of two stored on the property — was used to access the wreck.

Hall said in this case an airboat was the only option to get to the scene.

"The location of the crash site certainly presented challenges to first responders, primarily related to access," Hall said. "Additionally, due to the patient being trapped in the plane, significant extrication equipment also had to be transported to the crash site utilizing the airboat. All of these factors certainly contributed to the complexity of the rescue mission."

The airport was closed to traffic shortly before 5 p.m. and reopened just after 7 p.m., after investigators cleared the scene, according to Carol Saviak, strategic partnerships manager for the Northeast Florida Regional Airport.

As NTSB continues its investigation, Knudson said, "Basically, we look at everything on the table and start trying to rule things out to get to a probable cause."

Some of the factors considered include the pilot's experience and whether there any extenuating circumstances of his or her impairment; the weather and any other environmental conditions; and any recent maintenance or repairs of the aircraft, Knudson said.

The length of time it took responders to reach the crash site will also be examined.

A preliminary report will be issued by NTSB in about two weeks, with the final report taking another 12 to 24 months.

This article originally appeared on St. Augustine Record: Fatal plane crash in St. Augustine under investigation by NTSB