HOLLYWOOD — - After a high-powered single-engine plane with two people aboard crashed onto Florida's Turnpike without killing anyone Wednesday, a rescue official praised the pilot.
"There were no major injuries," Hollywood Fire Rescue Chief Virgil Fernandez said. "What he did was truly remarkable. Kudos to him."
No vehicles were struck and no one on the ground was hurt by the crash in the northbound lanes of the highway, just south of Hollywood Boulevard, at around 1:45 p.m.
After being closed for hours, by 6:30 p.m. all turnpike lanes were reopened.
Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Mark Wysocky said the plane had mechanical problems before the accident.
The pilot, identified by the FHP as Alain Jaubert, 49, from Julos, France, may have landed on the turnpike as a last resort. He had been flying south just before the accident to try to be in position to turn west toward the runway at North Perry Airport.
"He did a stellar job landing the plane without injuring anyone on the ground," said Gregory Meyer, spokesman for Broward County Aviation Department.
Jaubert and his passenger, identified by the FHP as Donato Pinto, 50, of Aventura, were taken to Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Fernandez said. The highway patrol said the men's injuries were non-life threatening.
Debbie Futch, 52, of Davie, said she had been heading north on the turnpike when traffic near the Hollywood/Pines Boulevard exit suddenly stopped.
"All of a sudden I saw a white airplane in the middle of the street," Futch said. "It's really a miracle … when you think about the potential for a disaster."
The 2008 Socata TBM 700, a turboprop frequently used for corporate flights, left North Perry Airport at 1:35 p.m., bound for Opa-locka Executive Airport in north Miami-Dade County, authorities said.
Jaubert was apparently conducting a "maintenance test flight," to check out a plane with recent engine work or after a mechanical inspection, said Jeff Kennedy, head of the National Transportation Safety Board's Miami office.
As part of the test flight, Kennedy said, Jaubert practiced approaching a runway at the Opa-locka airport.
"They didn't even land," he said. "After the approach, it turned around and was going back to North Perry."
He said the plane was a mile from the North Perry runway when trouble struck. It was not known if the pilot declared an emergency.
"Whatever happened, happened then," Kennedy said.
While the NTSB will investigate the cause of the accident, the Federal Aviation Administration made the initial inspection of the wreckage and "documented the scene," Kennedy said.
The NTSB will borrow an investigator from its Virginia office to lead the probe. The wreckage likely will be hauled to a hangar in Fort Pierce, where its engine and fuselage will be scrutinized, he said.
Two hours after the crash, the smell of plane fuel was still strong in the air. As it sat on the highway, the upper part of the fuselage was cracked where it met the wings.
As a precaution, Hollywood firefighters stood by with hoses while federal investigators inspected the site.
Fire retardant foam covered the plane, and its nose was pushed against the center median. Heavy-equipment operators were bringing in large bags of material to help sop up fluids on the asphalt.
The Socata TBM 700 is considered the "cream of the crop" among general aviation aircraft, according to Meyer of the Broward aviation department.
The plane had apparently received maintenance work from Socata, a French aviation firm that has an outlet at North Perry Airport. Socata aircraft parts are shipped to that complex and then assembled.
According to FAA records, the plane is 3 years old and registered to SV Leasing Co. of America, based in Miami.
Staff writer Laura C. Morel contributed to this report
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