Plane crashes into DeLand Publix; 5 injured

Pilot, co-pilot airlifted to Orlando hospital


DeLAND, Fla. – The cleanup continues at the DeLand Publix where an amphibious plane crashed through the roof, injuring five people--including three customers.

The National Transportation Safety Board officials removed the charred wreckage of the single-engine Seawind 3000 plane from the crash site of the Publix on East International Speedway Boulevard.

SLIDESHOW: Viewer photos | RAW VIDEO: Crash | Witnesses

RAW AUDIO: 911 calls

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 around 7:30 p.m. Monday.  Officials on Tuesday released video from a sheriff's helicopter that shows a gaping hole in the store's burning roof, with black smoke flowing from the building.

Employees will sort through the food to decide what to keep. It's not clear what will happen to the food that won't be kept. Another Publix in the DeLand area about 3-miles away will continue to fill prescriptions and Easter orders for the closed location during cleanup.

NTSB held a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, where officials said they are getting the aircraft, which is in pieces, completely out of the building to continue the investigation. The wreck will be taken to a salvage facility in Groveland Tuesday night. NTSB officials said it will take them about 6 to 8 months to complete the investigation.

NTSB official Luke Schiada said the majority of the airplane was consumed by the fire and the plane prop is partially melted, but they are still working to get information on what caused the plane to crash by investigating the cockpit of the plane.

Schiada said the engine, propeller and part of the vertical fin are still in tact. Officials said surveillance cameras in the Publix went black the instant the crash occurred, so there is no surveillance video of the crash. Shelves in aisles 3-6 were destroyed by the fireball, which melted most of the plane, according to officials.

The Seawind 300 is an aircraft that is usually sold as a kit, but the 10-year-old plane was already assembled with owner Presbrey, an Illinois attorney, bought it.

"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, identified by DeLand police as Thomas Rhoades and Kim Presbrey, suffered burns and were airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center in critical condition. NTSB officials said both Rhoades and Presbrey were based in Illinois. It's not clear which man was piloting the plane, but both were rated as pilots and one of them a commercial pilot.

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.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.