DeLAND, Fla. April 4 2012 - An amphibious plane crashed into a DeLand Publix on Monday, injuring five people — including three customers.
Deputies said the single-engine plane crashed into the Publix on East International Speedway Boulevard around 7:30 p.m.
The plane had taken off from DeLand Municipal Airport, about a quarter-mile from the store, when it crashed into the roof of the supermarket. Officials on Tuesday released video from a sheriff’s helicopter that shows a gaping hole in the store’s roof, with black smoke flowing from the building.
“It sounded like thunder, and then, all of a sudden, something shook,” witness Evan Wallace said.
Other witnesses said they saw the plane sputter before crashing into the roof above the meat department and bursting into flames, officials said.
“I was putting my food on the conveyor belt, and the lights went out. Then the roof caved in and a big fireball just exploded,” said Publix customer Amanda Carr. “We all ran as fast as we could.”
Authorities on Tuesday released nearly a dozen 911 calls pertaining to the crash.
“Oh, God. There’s a fire,” a caller said.
“What’s on fire,” the 911 operator said.
“A person — and the building, too,” the caller said. “We’ve got to go.”
When firefighters arrived, smoke was billowing out of the store as hundreds watched outside.
Two men aboard the plane suffered burns. They were airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center in critical condition. Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson told Local 6 that he doesn’t think the men were from the area.
Three customers inside the store were injured. Lisa Cordova and April Morris were taken to Florida Hospital in DeLand, and they were later released. The third victim, Stetson University student Brendan Beitler, was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center in stable condition.
Beitler’s father, Douglas Beitler, said he’s thankful others came to his son’s rescue.
“(My son) literally said, ‘I’m on fire. Help. Somebody help me,’” Douglas Beitler told Local 6 News, adding that a ball of fire came right at his son.
“He reacted to get away from it and then there was a second explosion that caught him on the back of his legs and his legs were on fire,” Douglas Beitler said.
A military medic and a paramedic who was shopping nearby came to his son’s rescue.
“One came out of Lowe’s and started helping him 15 minutes before the ambulance got there,” Douglas Beitler said while fighting back tears. “I’d like to thank those people whoever they are.”
“It’s a miracle (that no one was killed in the crash). That’s all I can say,” DeLand police Lt. Jack Waples said.
The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash.