TIA Plane Crash: Hero Tampa officers pull pilot from burning plane

5:07 PM, Dec 20, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- Two hero Tampa Police officers saved a pilot's life by pulling him from his burning plane after it crashed late Thursday at the edge of Tampa International Airport.

Officers Dave Dennison and Brian Gentry were on patrol in a helicopter when they heard a distress call from a small plane that was about to crash.

They darted across the sky and landed just moments after the single-engine Cessna went down. The engine was on fire, with the unconscious pilot still inside the plane. 

WATCH: Tampa Police video of the crash and pilot's rescue

Video from the helicopter shows Officer Gentry running over to put out the flames and then pull the pilot out of the wreckage.  Both Gentry and Dennison are veteran Tampa police officers.

10 News talked to a witness who saw the plane overhead just before midnight, with flames pouring out as it flew.

It was not flying north-to-south, like it would be if it were bound for a runway. Instead, it was moving west-to-east -- parallel to Hillsborough Avenue -- and way, way too low.

"I saw a plane coming parallel with Hillsborough and I knew it wasn't right. And I saw it was on fire. I'm surprised he didn't hit the [Veterans Expressway], as low as he was," Mark Lieberstein said.

"Maybe 15, 20 feet... if that. And the whole front end was on fire. Just a lot of fire and he was really low to the Veterans. If there was a semi truck, he probably would have hit it."

The plane crashed into a drainage ditch just inside the fence on airport property at the northwest corner of Tampa International Airport.

The pilot has not been identified yet. Police said he was taken to the hospital and was stable.

In a tweet Friday morning, Tampa International Airport's staff said the pilot is "injured but OK."

Other flights in and out of the airport have not been disrupted.

Flight Express of Columbus, Ohio is listed as the plane's owner. That company is now a division of a larger firm, AirNet Cargo Charter Services.

AirNet specializes in "time-critical small package" delivery with a fleet of more than 130 aircraft across the U.S.

NTSB investigators have begun an investigation into the crash.

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