A sound of "distress" alerted two Tampa Police officers who ended up pulling an injured pilot to safety.
Tactical Flight Officers Dave Dennison and Brian Gentry were patrolling the skies, when a radio transmission captured Dennison's attention.
"I heard over the Tampa International Airport control tower radio frequencies a pilot that sounded like to me, he was in distress," said Dennison. "I said let's start heading that direction."
The pair were traveling in a helicopter in south Tampa, about seven miles away from the airport.
They typically provide assistance to patrol officers working on the ground. As they moved their helicopter closer to the airport, the radio transmissions intensified.
"As we were closing the distance, the incident sounded like it was continuing to digress," Dennison told FOX 13 News. "We brought the camera online...it's a pretty hard thing to do. You are looking at an overall sky picture at night and you are trying to find something as small as a Cessna 210."
Using the camera, Gentry spotted the plane from five to six miles away. The officers communicated with police and airport officials as they approached the scene. The pair arrived just after the crash.
"At one point the only thing you hear me tell Brian is, I'm putting you on the ground," said Dennison. "I realized we were going to be able to respond and provide aid prior to the fire department."
The crash happened on the edge of the TIA property. Video from helicopter shows the crew landed the helicopter, extinguished an engine fire, and got the unconscious pilot out of the wreckage as the plane teetered on an embankment.
Gentry was first to assist the pilot, now identified as 58-year-old Mark E. Love.
"He was sandwiched between he cockpit and the seat," said Gentry. "Basically I had to pull him out of the aircraft and that put him in some pain."
Love remains at St. Joseph's Hospital with serious injuries.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn commented on the officers' actions during a press conference.
"It was an amazing act and I can't tell you how proud I am of them," said Buckhorn."As a result of the actions of these two officers there is somebody who is alive today."
Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor also expressed pride in the officers.
"They were in the right place at the right time, and had the right skills and equipment necessary to do what needed to be done. I could not be prouder."
Officers Dennison and Gentry tell FOX 13 the real hero is Pilot Love.
"I think the real hero in this case is the injured pilot," said Gentry. "He was able to take that aircraft that was no longer working for him and aviate it to a spot that was not populated and put it down."
"As a pilot, we have a lot of things going on. Sometimes your body is just going on training and your mind is continuing to fly the aircraft. If you look at the scene, Love came right over Veteran's Expressway and Memorial Highway. It's busy right now. We have a lot of vehicles on the road. It's Christmas time," Dennison said of area traffic.
The FAA has been notified of the crash. NTSB is conducting the investigation. FOX 13 obtained the distress call, where the air traffic controller asks the pilot if he needs assistance. The pilot initially told dispatchers that he was running low on oil.
"No sir, let me talk to you on the ground," the pilot responds. "I'm running a little rough, but I should be able to make it, though."
The air traffic controllers reported that as the pilot made his approach into the runway he came up short. Airport officials say the small plane was a Cessna 210N belonging to Flight Express Inc.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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