Tampa North Aero Park's flight school temporarily grounded flying lessons Sunday morning because of inclement weather.
But Harold Cameron MacManus was a licensed pilot and had permission to take off in his single-engine Piper Arrow to begin a flight to his home state of Tennessee.
MacManus, 59, a Pikeville, Tenn., doctor, was heading to Crossville, Tenn., when his plane crashed near State Road 52 and Ehren Cutoff, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office reported. MacManus died in the crash, and his body was removed from the crash scene Monday, deputies said.
Keith Carver, owner of Tampa North Aero Park, said flying lessons were halted but licensed pilots were able to fly.
Carver said optimal conditions for planes taking off would be about a 1,000 foot clearance between the ground and cloud or fog cover. "We had only about 400-foot ceilings," Carver said.
MacManus flew from Tampa Aero Park North shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday. The sheriff's office got a call about 2:30 a.m. Monday from a resident reporting a loud bang. Deputies checked the area but did not find anything.
The sheriff's office got a second call about 9 a.m. Deputies checked and again did not find anything. Deputies were called again, this time by Pasco County Fire Rescue, to help locate crash debris about 4 miles north of the airport.
Terry Duprie, the National Transportation Safety Board investigator in charge at the crash site, said pieces of the plane were being collected.
We've done our on-site investigation, Duprie said. "Looking at the debris field as basically the wreckage lay — so we've done all the photo documentation, the wreckage diagram, that type thing."
He said the plane will be taken to a salvage location in the state to be further probed. No cause has been determined, he said.
"It's way too early for that. I'm still trying to grab all the (details) myself," Duprie said. "The pilot, his history, his training; we're going to look at all the aircraft maintenance records, all that. Make sure there were no mechanical issues. We'll look at fuel, and we'll look at the environment. We'll look at the weather. … We'll look at everything."
One of the pilot's family members had contacted the Federal Aviation Administration after not hearing from him after takeoff, the sheriff's office said.
MacManus is the younger brother of Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida professor and political analyst. She said the family was frantic Monday when they did not hear from him.
"He was our baby brother," MacManus said. "He had a very fulfilled life. He was happy. I feel terrible for his children and his wife."
She said her family grew up in Pasco County, where her brother attended Pasco High School.
During his high school years, he worked summers at what became Tampa North Aero Park. He took his pay in flying lessons and got his license while still in high school, MacManus said.
He returned to flying about six months ago after taking lessons again, she said.
Carver said weather appeared to be fine in the direction Harold MacManus was headed.
"The flight instructor there that let him up said it looked like it was clear to the north," Carver said.
Lessons were canceled for just a portion of the day, Carver said. "They weren't grounded all day," Carver said. "They were grounded until the ceiling was at least 1,000 feet."
This was Harold MacManus' second trip to the Tampa Bay area since January. He spent a week here, meeting a close friend for an annual golf outing, his sister said.
He had a wonderful time with family and friends during the week he stayed here, she said.
"It was a great week for all of us," she said. "He was very upbeat."
Flying wasn't unusual in the MacManus family. Their father was a Navy flight instructor in Pensacola during World War II.
Harold MacManus worked in Tennessee the past 15 years as a family doctor in a rural area where he had to tend to a mix of needs. He was a country doctor who didn't shy away from house visits, Susan MacManus said.
"He's a country doctor in every sense of the word," she said.
"He was the consummate country doctor."