TAMPA, Fla. — A 15-year-old student pilot took off in a small plane without permission Saturday and crashed into a skyscraper after ignoring a Coast Guard helicopter's signals to land, authorities said.
The crash occurred after Charles J. Bishop's grandmother brought him to the National Aviation flight school for a 5 p.m. flying lesson, said Marianne Pasha, a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman. She said an instructor told Bishop to check the plane's equipment before the lesson.
"The next thing the instructor knew he was gone," Pasha said.
Though terrorism was quickly discounted, the televised image of a plane blasting a hole in the side of a skyscraper was a chilling reminder of the Sept. 11 attacks. The plane's tail dangled near the 20th floor of the 40-story Bank of America building.
One person was killed, but officials would not confirm it was Bishop. It was unknown whether anyone in the building was injured.
Bishop, of Palm Harbor, had been taking lessons for two years, Pasha said.
Air traffic controllers at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport notified the Coast Guard that the four-seat 2000 Cessna 172R had taken off without clearance, said Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Charlotte Pittman.
A Coast Guard helicopter intercepted the plane and attempted to give the pilot visual signals to land at a small airport, but the pilot did not respond, Pittman said.
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the Office of Homeland Security, said there was also no sign of terrorist involvement in small plane crashes Saturday in California, Colorado and Puerto Rico.
Capt. Kirstin Reimann at the North American Aerospace Defense Command said two F-15s were scrambled from Homestead Air Reserve Base as a precaution but declined to say whether they reached the scene before the crash.
Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Tita said the plane briefly breached air space at McDill Air Force Base, home of Central Command, which is running the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
Aircraft takeoffs at Tampa International Airport and St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport were suspended for 40 minutes, said FAA spokesman Christopher White.
Eric Reyes, 25, said he was stopped at a traffic light when the plane crashed.
"I saw a big cloud of smoke," Reyes said. He said he saw one wing fall and hit the ground, followed moments later by the other wing.
In Colorado, a single-engine airplane crashed and exploded in foothills northwest of Boulder, killing the only person on board, a sheriff's spokesman said Saturday. The pilot's name was not immediately available.