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Sat, Apr 05, 2008

NTSB, Pilot Agree On Cause Of September '07 Accident

Was Ejected From His Own Plane

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has completed its probable cause report on an accident in Florida's Lake Okeechobee last September. It's hard to say which is more bizarre -- the circumstances of the accident, or the circumstances of the rescue.

The board's report, released March 31, found 67-year-old Anthony Bencivenga was at fault in the crash of his two-year-old homebuilt amphibian into the lake. Bencivenga agrees, telling the Palm Beach Post, "I did everything a pilot shouldn't do. I paid a hell of a price to learn that lesson."

The causal chain has many links. The Aventura II was two years old, but had only about 40 hours on the Hobbs, and Bencivenga was still learning to fly it. He told investigators he encountered a headwind which caused the aircraft's nose to rise, overcorrected, and in the process bumped the throttle wide open and the controls to the left.

At the same time, he somehow snagged his seat belt buckle, releasing the latch, and was thrown out the right side of the doorless aircraft and into the water. Bencivenga says the plane then leveled itself out, flew past him, and continued off into the distance.

The pilot quickly realized the extent of his predicament, and the possible outcomes. "No life jacket. No glasses. I couldn't see a thing," he told the Post from his home at the Aero Acres fly-in community in Port St. Lucie. "I was just praying to Jesus...I said, if I'm going to die please drown me first before the alligators get me."

Bencivenga's friend, neighbor and fellow pilot, Mike Bantam, was out flying in his experimental single-seat gyroplane, and saw the amphibian crash moments later. Not realizing Bencivenga had been thrown free two miles away, Bantam circled the wreckage for a few minutes before deciding to head back to the airport to report what he thought was a fatal accident.

But as he flew, he spotted Bencivenga desperately treading water, and successfully drew the attention of fishermen on a nearby bass boat, who pulled the exhausted Bencivenga from the water.

Bantum observed, "It was a happy ending. He lived to fly another day." That is, if you can call the bruising loss of a $65,000 aircraft happy.

FMI: Read The NTSB Probable Cause Report

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