Officials Interview Pilot's Family
The Associated Press
Jan 6 2002 3:54PM
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Investigators on Sunday interviewed the family of a 15-year-old student pilot, described as a loner, who took off in a small plane without authorization and crashed it into an office building.
Officials confirmed Sunday that Charles J. Bishop, of Palm Harbor, was killed when his plane hit the skyscraper Saturday evening.
A Coast Guard helicopter pilot motioned for the boy to land but couldn't get a response, and a pair of military jets scrambled to intercept the small plane arrived after the crash.
``There was no doubt he died on impact,'' said Fire Department Capt. Bill Wade.
Fire department officials said damage to the building was limited to the office where the plane hit and small areas of adjoining floors. Most of the building was expected to be open Monday, though there was concern about chunks of the facade falling to the sidewalk below.
Though terrorism was quickly discounted, images of the plane blasting a hole in the side of a skyscraper were chilling reminders of the World Trade Center attacks. Until it was pulled in early Sunday, the plane's tail had dangled from the 28th floor of the 42-story Bank of America building.
In Palm Harbor, police unrolled yellow crime scene tape outside the apartment complex where Bishop lived with his mother, while a stream of detectives and FBI agents interviewed family members Sunday.
Julia Bishop, the boy's mother, told a camera crew to ``get out'' when they attempted to film her as she opened her door for investigators.
Bishop's grandmother had taken him to the National Aviation Academy flight school at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport for a 5 p.m. flying lesson on Saturday, said Marianne Pasha, a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.
She said an instructor told Bishop to check equipment on the four-seat 2000 Cessna 172R before the lesson. ``The next thing the instructor knew he was gone,'' Pasha said.
A Coast Guard helicopter caught up to Bishop over Tampa after he had traveled about 20 miles, and the crew signaled for him to land. Pilots said he ignored them, then plane crashed into the building.
As a precaution, two F-15 fighter jets were scrambled from Homestead Air Reserve Base, 200 miles away, but they arrived after the crash, said Capt. Kirstin Reimann at the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Only a few office workers and the staff of a club were in the building at the time of the crash. None was injured.
Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Tita said there was no record of the ninth grader running into problems with the law in the past.
Derek Perryman, a classmate of Bishop's at East Lake High School in Palm Harbor, about 25 miles west of Tampa, said Bishop often talked about planes with a friend in their journalism class.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist, he said, Bishop read a paper to the class. ``It was real expressive about how he felt, how disappointed he was,'' Perryman said.
Neighbors said Bishop, who had moved from the Boston area a year earlier, kept to himself.
``He rode my bus to school. He sat in the front row. He always had sunglasses on for some reason,'' said David Ontiveros, 14. ``He never talked to anybody.''
The Bishops briefly lived in Massachusetts several years ago, some former neighbors recalled Sunday.
Bev Pinkham, who lived near them in Norwell, Mass., just outside Boston, said Bishop ``was just an ordinary quiet kid.''
``One day he came over and said my flower gardens were beautiful,'' she said. ``Other than that, he was very quiet.''
Michael Cronin, an attorney for the National Aviation Academy, said Bishop had been taking flying lessons since March 2001 and had logged about six hours of flight time.
He said the boy often cleaned planes in exchange for flight time and was very familiar with operations at the school. Cronin said students do preflight equipment checks on their own, then have their accuracy verified by an instructor. Bishop was a year shy of being able to fly alone and two years too young to earn a pilot's license.
``The bottom line is he essentially stole the aircraft,'' Cronin said. ``We aren't going to speculate what his mental state or motivations were.''