25-Year-Old Tow Pilot Lands Near Mall

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Returning from a banner towing flight out of Albert Whitted Airport, a 25-year-old pilot was faced with few good options when he suffered engine trouble Thursday near St Petersburg, Fla., landed on a relatively busy road near a mall, and walked away unscathed. Choosing a tree- and light-pole-lined road, the pilot dropped his banner, landed, hit one tree with the aircraft's left wing and sideswiped an occupied rental car. The banner landed in a Walgreens parking lot and the aircraft came to rest with one gear leg collapsed. After the landing, the pilot got out to check if he'd hurt anyone on the ground and found he had not. The aircraft, a single-seat Piper Pawnee PA-25-250, had been towing a banner "for more than three hours" prior to the incident, a fire department spokesman who spoke with the pilot told Tampa Bay Online. The young pilot told the spokesman he had 10 years of flying experience.

The aircraft and the car both suffered damage, but no fuel was leaked at the site. The road was closed to both east and west traffic while investigators checked the scene. Several hours later, the aircraft was towed away. It is owned by Advertising Air Force, which operates from Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg.