SEBRING — At 2:47 p.m. Tuesday a call came in about a gyrocopter crash behind Pinch-A-Penny Pool Supplies in Sebring, off of U.S. 27, according to Scott Dressel, Highlands County Sheriff’s Office public information officer.
A gyrocopter crashed into a mobile home on Caribbean Road in Sebring Falls, a retirement subdivision near U.S. 27 across from Lake Jackson. One structure has been destroyed, a second damaged and a third was threatened. Multiple emergency officials responded to the scene.
Sebring Falls has no fire hydrants. Water was being pumped from hydrants on the highway and from a water tanker on scene.
Dressel confirms two fatalities, believed to be the pilot and a passenger. A third person has been transported to a local hospital with minor burns.
Sebring Falls residents Dave and Dawn Hassel said the person who was burned and transported to a hospital was a man who was working on the neighboring house at the time of the crash.
A gyrocopter is a type of rotorcraft that uses an unpowered rotor in free autorotation to develop lift. Forward thrust is provided independently, typically by an engine-driven propeller.
Sebring Falls resident Tim Deaton said he saw a small one- or two-seater blue aircraft and heard the engine rev and then saw the pilot could not pull out of it.
Dressel could not confirm if the blue gyrocopter was the same one reported being seen flying above U.S. 27 near Shelby Crossing earlier in the day.
Randall Myers, who lives at the end of the block from the crash site, said he heard the engine popping and at first thought it was a sea plane attempting to land on Lake Jackson. He said he heard the pilot “goose” the engine.
Tim Brinling, an Edward Jones employee, said he saw the gyrocopter go down and ran over. He said it took 30-45 seconds for him to reach the scene and by that time the mobile home was “fully engulfed.”
Diane Clark, whose house sits across the street, said, “the lights went out and then we heard ‘kaboom.’” She said a live electrical line flew over her and her husband’s house.
Greg Bassett with Heartland Electric, who was working on the Clarks’ home, said he heard a loud motor.
Dennis Need, who lives on the backside of Sebring Falls, said he jumped about a foot high when he heard the explosion.
Dee Wright lives two doors down. She said the occupants of the destroyed mobile home are seasonal, and are not back in the area yet.
She heard a bang and thought is was next door and all of sudden there was a fire.
Sebring Falls resident Ralph Dell thought it was an electrical transformer popping since there has been a few that have failed recently, but when he got outside he saw the large plume of black smoke.
The crash turned a pole behind the house into splinters and dropped a live transformer and wires on the ground. Sebring Fire Chief Robert Border had to warn civilians not to try to come through a broken section of privacy fence because of live wires on the ground.
His department responded, as did Sebring Police, Highlands County Sheriff’s deputies and Highlands County Fire & Rescue.
Highlands County Public Safety Director and Fire & Rescue Chief Marc Bashoor said county fire services first got the call at 2:50 p.m. The first unit on scene was Medic 71 at 2:52 p.m. The ambulance was patrolling the road at the time.
Engine 19 from DeSoto City Fire Department arrived next at 2:55 p.m. and starting running hose from a hydrant in front of Pinch-A-Penny Pool Supplies along U.S. 27 to Ryant Boulevard and back to the park. They ran out of hose just inside the park, Bashoor said.
By that time, Bashoor said he and other command staff arrived, along with Engines 10 and 9, in that order, from West Sebring Volunteer Fire Department.
West Sebring firefighters pulled hose from their trucks to complete the feed line. The DeSoto City engine, he said, had 750 gallons on board and a 150-gallon per minute “fog” nozzle, giving them four minutes — five maximum — to put water on the fire.
Bashoor said there was no delay in the water feed.
The remaining crews, Bashoor said, came from Highlands Lakes Fire Engine 1 and West Sebring Fire Tanker 9, along with Highlands Lakes Tanker 1 and Arial 7, a fire engine from the Sun ‘n Lake of Sebring station, run by West Sebring.
In all, he had 25 paid and volunteer firefighters on scene and estimates they used 10,000 gallons of water.
Bashoor said he had Duke Energy shut off all power, temporarily, to the entire park until they could put out all hot spots in the fire. Then, he said, they would see about isolating the crash scene and restoring power.