Three injured in plane crash at Okeechobee airport

OKEECHOBEE — Three people were injured when a small plane crashed in Okeechobee on Saturday afternoon.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Brad Goodbread
Deputy Richard Varnadore was first on the scene and managed to get the pilot out of the plane. The two passengers were able to get out under their own power.

At approximately 12:45 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23, a 911 call was received in reference to a plane crash, and Deputy Richard Varnadore was first on scene. He found the plane in flames, but two occupants were able to escape under their own power. Deputy Varnadore was able to rescue the pilot, who was still in the plane. It appears the plane lost power and made a crash landing at the south side of the Okeechobee airport in the industrial park.

According to Okeechobee County Commissioner Bradley Goodbread, the plane was a V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza 225. All three occupants were transported to Raulerson Hospital, two via helicopter and one by ambulance, and subsequently airlifted to another area hospital, with unknown injuries.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Brad Goodbread
The plane that crashed was a V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza 225.

Okeechobee County Fire Rescue Engines 1 and 2 and Rescues 1, 4 and 12 and Chief 1, with assistance from the Okeechobee Fire Department, responded to the scene. After the crash, the plane caught fire and also caused a small grass fire.

Deputy Varnadore said he was supposed to be out of town that weekend. Earlier that day, he was out on an airboat, but he was having trouble with the engine, and so there was a change of plans, and he picked up a detail.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Brad Goodbread
All three on board were injured but none fatally.

“Being my normal, boring self,” he said, “I left for work early, which in turn meant I was in the right place at the right time.”

He lives across from the airport and as he left for work, he noticed smoke coming from that direction and decided to investigate. When he arrived, there was no visible fire going on. He saw a young man, later identified as Raymer Sale IV, lying on the wing of the plane and a woman, later identified as Dawn Sale, lying on the ground, he said. When he ran up to check on them, the young man began to yell, “My father, my father. He’s trapped in the plane! Please save him. Please help him.” With all the smoke beginning to build up, Deputy Varnadore said he knew he needed to get them away from the plane before it caught fire, so he grabbed the father, Raymer Sale III, in a bear hug, picked him up and ran with him about 50 feet before setting him down on the ground. The son was able to walk, and the mother was able to walk with Deputy Varnadore’s assistance. When Deputy Varnadore turned to look back, he said the plane was fully engulfed in flames.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Brad Goodbread
OCFR was able to put out the fire with help from city firefighters.

He said he spoke to the son Monday morning and the family is doing well. “Given the extent of the damage, I’m very happy it turned out as well as it has,” said Deputy Varnadore.

He does not consider himself a hero even though others are calling him that. “I was just in the right place at the right time,” he said. “A lot of others helped, too. I was just the first on the scene.”

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Brad Goodbread
The Beechcraft Bonanza is nicknamed “The doctor killer” because it is a single engine plane, attracting wealthy hobbyist pilots (such as doctors). It is a faster plane than the hobbyists are used to, causing the plane to “get in front of them,” which can cause them to crash.

He is thankful for the training he received from the sheriff’s office, he said. “I did what I did and then went on to work.”

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Brad Goodbread
Deputy Richard Varnadore does not consider himself a hero.

The Sale family rented the aircraft in Titusville, from Florida’s Space Coast Aviation Flight School. They left there at approximately 10:45 a.m. and flew to Okeechobee to get some lunch, according to Mrs. Sale. She said as they were taking off to leave the Okeechobee airport after lunch, they got about 100 feet off the ground when the motor began to cut out and her husband tried to turn around and make an emergency landing. At that point, she said, the engine shut off and the plane went into a nosedive and they crashed into the field.

This case will be investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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