Banner Plane Goes Down in Gulf

Around 1:00 p.m. Saturday, beachgoers near Highway 79 got an up-close view of a plane crash.

"I was just flying along and the engine decided it didn't wanna run anymore. Nice peaceful, just shut down, all quiet," said banner plane pilot John Madden. "I thought I was gonna get wet, and I did."

Luckily, Madden shut off his fuel tank so a lot of gas wouldn't spill into the seawater. Then he braced for the landing.

Sgt. John Deegins of the Panama City Beach Police Department said, "He purposely tried to land it on the second sand bar so that his wheels would touch the sand bar and it wouldn't sink on him."

Madden said, "It's either land in the water and get the plane wet or land on the beach and kill a bunch of people, so the decision is easy."

The plane glided to a stop in about five feet of water about 40 feet offshore behind some town homes on the west end of Panama City Beach.

Madden dropped his banner earlier to try and keep from crashing then radioed to the tower he was going down.

"There's not much time. It's about 10 to 15 seconds from the time the engine quit to the time I went in the water."

Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife officials cordoned off the area from swimmers and pulled the plane out of the water by late afternoon. The pilot, John Madden, had only a minor cut on his forehead.