Police identify 3 men on small plane that crashed in Knoxville

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - The Knoxville Police Department has identified the three people who were on board a plane that crashed into a neighborhood Tuesday afternoon.

Police say Gerald Marotta, Michael Spinazzola and Robert Gintz, all from the Knoxville area, were on the plane that crashed just after 3:15 p.m. Tuesday east of downtown Knoxville on Groner Avenue. Police say the plane left Island Home Airport minutes before it crashed into the driveway of a home, hitting a car.

Previous story3 taken to hospital after small plane crash near downtown Knoxville

All three adults were taken to UT Medical Center. Marotta and Gintz have already been discharged. Spinazzola is listed in stable condition. No one on the ground was hurt.

The scene of the crash was cleared just after 5:30 p.m. and residents were allowed to return to their homes.

Witnesses report the aircraft struggled to climb.

"I saw it. It flew over me," Robert Wayne Foss said. "I was in the parking lot when it went overhead and I heard it and I realized that something was amiss and I saw it over the trees. It didn't look like it could climb. There was obviously something wrong. What exactly went wrong we'll find out in the study report by the NTSB."

Foss is the chief flight instructor at the Knoxville Flight Training Academy. He has been training people to fly planes for years. he said most pilots learn to fly single-engine aircraft, leaving the multi-engine planes, like the one that crashed Tuesday, to be flown by more experienced airmen.

"It's a performance-based training," he said. "When you have more than one engine, you have operating differences in particular. Systems are more sophisticated and the emergency procedures are different. You are normally already a licensed pilot and then you get the multi-engine training and start flying the more sophisticated airplanes."

Though it still remains unclear what caused the plane to go down, whether it was human error or a maintenance issue, Foss said pilots are trained to make in the air decisions and to mitigate potential risks. 

"Learning judgment... the FAA is big on decision making and risk management," Foss said. "They attribute most of the accidents that occur to failures there."

People who live close by to the crash site have a number of questions still.

"What the heck happened and how did it happen and why did it fall right here and did somebody die? Did it run out of gas? A whole bunch of questions, a little bit farther it could've been the house we were in. Just a whole bunch of questions and prayers," said Dustin Turner.

The three people in the plane, two of them certified flight instructors, all survived the crash: a sign that Foss said experience saved lives. 

"The fact that there are no fatalities says they did something right," Foss said.

"I'm wondering why no one is calling him a hero and the reason why I say that is he could've crashed on the house, he could've hit a couple others, he saved his whole crew and civilians. The pilot did an amazing job. He really did," added neighbor Jervis Brown II.

The plane was registered by the Lakelizard Aviation Training Company out of West Knoxville.

The FAA says its investigation will take some time.


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