Two people were killed Friday afternoon when a small plane that had lost both its engines crashed into a vehicle on a Florida interstate as the pilot attempted to make an emergency landing, authorities said.
The victims have been identified as pilot Edward Daniel Murphy, 50, of Oakland Park, Florida and second in command Ian Frederick Hofmann, 65, of Pompano Beach, Florida, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday afternoon.
Five people were on board the private jet when it crashed near a highway exit in Florida’s Collier County, creating a fiery debris field that caused officials to close Interstate 75, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and Collier County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that two people died in the collision.
Naples-area resident Jinny Johnson came upon the crash just minutes after it happened, as she was heading north on I-75 around 3:20 p.m.
“All of a sudden I saw a lot of black smoke,” Johnson said. “It was pitch black. As I got closer, the smoke got a little lighter. And then I saw flames.”
Flames shot into the air, eating into the plane, and there was a damaged car sitting on the median, Johnson said. As she crept north, sticking to the lane on the far side of the road to give herself as much space from the plane as possible, she watched everything unfold.
The plane was traveling from Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, to the Naples, Florida airport and was scheduled for travel to Fort Lauderdale, said Robin King, the director of communication with the Naples Airport Authority. She said the airport lost touch with the plane just before it crashed around 3:10 p.m. It left Ohio at 12:30 p.m.
“It was coming in for a landing,” King said. “We received word that it had possibly lost an engine … Then we lost contact.”
In a transcript released of the final call from the pilot, the pilot tells an air traffic controller they won’t make the runway.
Pilot: “Okay, Challenger, Hop-A-Jet 823, lost both engines, emergency. I’m making an emergency landing.”
Controller: “I’ve got an emergency. Clear to land Runway 23.
Pilot: “We’re clear to land, but we’re not gonna make the runway. We’ve lost both engines.”
Federal officials investigating the crash
The plane made impact at 3:12 p.m. according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles told USA TODAY that at least two vehicles were involved in the collision and said closures had impacted north and southbound traffic on I-75. The southbound lanes were still closed as the investigation continued into the evening, the Florida Highway Patrol in Southwest Florida said in a social media post shortly before 8 p.m. Friday.
The plane was a private jet, a Bombardier Challenger 600 operated by Hop-A-Jet Worldwide Charter based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, according to aircraft tracker FlightAware. Hop-A-Jet did not respond to an email and phone message from USA TODAY seeking comment.
Hop-A-Jet released a statement late Friday saying it had “received confirmed reports of an accident involving one of our leased aircraft near Naples” and that it would dispatch a team to the crash site.
“Our immediate concern is for the well-being of our passengers, crew members, and their families,” the statement said.
According to NTSB and Aviation Safety Network records, Friday’s collision of the Hop-A-Jet flight was at least the seventh fatal crash involving that series of Bombardier private jets since 2000. While some of the crashes were due to issues with the aircraft, others were caused by pilot error or other factors, the reports indicated.
Naples Airport dispatched firetrucks with a special foam-type substance that can help control jet fuel fires. Florida Highway Patrol troopers were on the scene.
The NTSB said the crash was considered an accident.
Officials said the airport in Ohio is a commercial site. OSU spokesman Ben Johnson confirmed that nobody from OSU was associated with the flight.
The NTSB told USA TODAY it had opened a probe into the crash, and an investigator arrived at the accident site Friday afternoon. Several more were expected to arrive on Saturday. The agency will examine the scene and aircraft before it is transferred to a facility for further inspection.
Investigators will review the actions of the pilot, aircraft and environment, including aircraft maintenance records, the weather, the pilot’s credentials, witness statements and more, the NTSB said.
Two small plane crashes in Florida in two weeks
Friday’s collision is at least the second small plane crash in Florida this month.
Last Thursday, a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza V35 crashed into a mobile home park in Clearwater, Florida, near Tampa, shortly after it reported an engine failure. The collision set four mobile homes on fire, and an FAA report said the crash killed the pilot and two people on the ground. The pilot was the only person on board the aircraft, the FAA said.
According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, there were 1,124 general aviation accidents in 2021, the latest available year of data, and 202 of the accidents were fatal.
This is a breaking news story: check back for updates.
Contributing: Dan Glaun
USA TODAY Network’s Naples Daily News, Fort Myers News-Press and Columbus Dispatch journalists Liz Freeman, Alex Martin and Shahid Meighan, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.