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Plane splits Florida home in half; pilot dies

OAKLAND PARK, Fla. - A small plane sputtered and dove intoa house shortly after taking off from a local airport Fridaymorning, slicing the home down the middle into two charred pieces.The pilot was killed.

The twin-engine Cessna 421 crashed around 11:20 a.m., and thehouse burst into flames. The owner's nephew barely escaped thecatastrophe, leaving just before the aircraft hit to visit hisaunt.

"For now, it's a bit difficult to explain how I feel," saidOscar Nolasco, 52, who has lived in the home for nearly 20 years."Everything is gone."

The house was about a mile from the Fort Lauderdale ExecutiveAirport, where the plane has just taken off. The pilot, Cecil A.Murray, 80, of Tarmac, did not survive, said Broward County SheriffAl Lamberti. There were no passengers aboard the plane.

The smell of fuel hung in the air hours after the crash, and theshell of the aircraft was sandwiched between two walls of the beigehouse. The home's driveway was black, but its white mailbox wasstill standing.

When the plane began to fail, Rick Cunningham heard a "spittingand sputtering" while he was painting a house down the street.Then, he saw the plane coming in sideways, and it nose-dived intothe ground, he said.

Cunningham, 52, ran over to the house and knocked the bedroomwindows down to see if there was anyone inside, but after a fewminutes he had to leave. "The heat was just too intense," hesaid.

The plane was headed to Fernandina Beach, just outsideJacksonville, where airport officials expected it to land around 1p.m. The pilot, who had logged about 23,000 hours of flying since1985, was traveling there to sell it, Lamberti said.

But after takeoff, something went wrong. Shortly after it gotinto the air, it reported trouble to the tower, and the towercleared it to turn around and land, said Chaz Adams, an airportspokesman. It never made it.

"I said, 'Oh my God, that could have been my house.' It wasthat close," said Bill Slugg, who lives across the street.

"I was on the phone, the phone went dead and there was thisloud bang and a lot of black smoke emanating from the area," saidDorothy O'Brien, 83, who lives nearby. "Black, black smoke for atleast ten minutes."

Though the fire was quickly controlled, firefighters were tryingisolate fuel in the debris, said Oakland Park Fire-Rescue ChiefDonald Widing. A utility company also cut power in the area toabout 1,645 customers because they were not able to get in toassess damage to power lines.

Nolasco said he and his nephew, Alex Martines, were staying in ahotel and getting assistance from the Red Cross. When authoritiescalled him to tell him about the crash, Nolasco said he thought itwas a joke.

Nolasco said his employer has reduced his hours, and it's notunusal for him to be home on a weekday. He was needed at thefactory Friday, though, and left for work hours before the crash.

"I have to thank God I have my life," he said.

"The house was a total loss," said Broward Sheriff's Officespokesman Mike Jachles. "The plane went right into the center ofthe house."

The crash was at least the fifth involving the airport, whichcaters to small planes and jets, in the last 12 years.

In 2007, a twin-engine Beechcraft reached about 150 feet aftertakeoff before the pilot reported he could not maintain altitudeand declared a mayday. He crashed onto Interstate 95, but survived.

A DC-3 cargo plane crashed shortly after takeoff into aresidential street near the airport in 2005. The pilot, co-pilotand a passenger all survived. The pilot said at the time they chosethe street because it was quiet and wide, and has an abundance oftall palm trees he could run into to slow the plane's speed.

In 2004, a Piper Cherokee crashed into the roof of an auto bodyshop shortly after takeoff, killing two people on the plane andcritically injuring a third. And in 1997, a new pilot died when hecrashed his Beechcraft Skipper 77 into a tree near the airport justafter takeoff.

National Transportation Safety Board records show that Cessna421s have been involved in 12 fatal accidents since 2004.

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