TAMPA, Fla. — A twin-engine aircraft slammed into a Pan American World Airways jet on a fog-shrouded airport taxiway today and burst into flames, killing the lone occupant of the small plane, officials said.
One witness said the pilot of the Piper Aztec, an off-duty Eastern Airlines captain apparently landing despite orders to stay away, began screaming in terror when the jetliner loomed out of the fog before him.
The small plane exploded after skidding beneath the jet and came to rest about 30 yards away.
Aviation officials said four of the 23 people on the Pan Am plane received bumps and bruises as they evacuated by emergency chute.
Paul MacAlester of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority said Flight 301 to Miami was taxiing for a takeoff from Tampa International Airport at 7:05 a.m. when the twin-engine Piper Aztec crashed into it.
The small craft apparently was trying to land on the runway, he said, "but instead of being lined up with the runway, it appears the small aircraft was lined up with the taxiway."
The commercial craft's occupants were fortunate that the small plane struck just below and to the right of the nose, then slid underneath and beyond the jet before exploding, said MacAlester.
Pan Am spokesman Merle Richman said the jetliner pilot, Capt. Edwin Lunsford of New Smyrna Beach, saw the small plane coming and managed to avoid a nose-to-nose collision.
Tim Maslonek, 22, a baggage handler who was riding an airport shuttle bus to his job, saw the crash and listened to the pilot and controllers on the bus radio.
"I heard the tower say the jet had clearance to take off but at the same time, a private prop plane was coming in that did not have clearance to land," Maslonek said.
Maslonek quoted the tower as saying: "Captain, do not land. You do not have permission to land."
Maslonek said the Piper's pilot saw the jetliner too late.
"I heard him start screaming. It was so scary. He was so terrified. I could tell from the voice. He was screaming, 'Oh my God, oh my God,' " Maslonek said.
The dead pilot was identified as William S. Bain, 56, who was flying in from his home in Fort Myers to command Eastern Flight 164 from Tampa to Newark, N.J. An Eastern spokesman said Bain, a captain, was a senior DC-9 pilot.
A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said visibility at the airport at the time of the accident was limited to 1/16th of a mile in heavy fog.
Pan Am passenger Frank Kuliski of Key West, who said he is a private pilot, said the jet's pilot slammed on the brakes and he heard a boom.
"I saw a big ball of fire on the right and then the left. I dashed out to the rear," he said. Flight attendants then opened the rear door and pushed a chute out so the 17 passengers and six crew members could evacuate.
"Right behind us, about 30 yards beyond us, we could see this twin-engine plane just completely engulfed in flames," Kuliski said.