BARTOW, Fla. — A Florida lawyer and four others were killed at sunrise Christmas Eve in a plane crash in dense fog.
John Shannon, 70, of Lakeland, Fla., was piloting a twin-engine Cessna 340 that went down just after takeoff around 7:15 a.m. ET Sunday from Bartow Municipal Airport about 50 miles southwest of Orlando, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
The plane caught fire after the crash and was fully involved by the time rescue crews arrived, Tina Mann, Polk County Fire Rescue spokeswoman, said in a statement.
"There was no chance of survival," Judd said. "When you look at the crash, the only thing that you say is, 'Nobody suffered.' "
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Shannon was making a 45- to 60-minute flight for day trip to the Florida Keys, the sheriff said. Also killed were his two daughters, Olivia Shannon, 24, a student at Southeastern University in Lakeland, and Victoria Shannon Worthington, 26, a Baltimore teacher; his son-in-law, Peter Worthington, 27, a University of Maryland law student; and a family friend, Krista Clayton, 32, a teacher in Lakeland.
The Worthingtons had arrived Saturday in Florida for the Christmas holiday, and John Shannon had filed a flight plan to go to Key West, said Carrie Horstman, a sheriff's office spokeswoman. No family members were able to be reached for comment.
“This is a tragedy at any time, but it is so much worse because it happened on Christmas Eve,” Judd said.
John Shannon, who graduated in 1975 from Samford University school of law in Homewood, Ala., had been a member of the Florida Bar since 1975, according to state records. The Republican ran for state representative in 2014, but lost in the primary to Colleen Burton, who still holds the office.
He had a private pilot's license since Oct. 4, 2010, with an instrument rating that allows a pilot to fly solely by referring to flight instruments in clouds or low visibility, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
Around the time of the crash, a National Weather Service observer reported visibility at the Bartow airport to be less than a quarter mile because of fog.
A photographer who was trying to capture the fog at sunrise was recording video that shows the crash, Judd said.
"He said, 'I couldn't believe that they were taking off in this fog,' " the sheriff said. "There was not one sign of the aircraft that was, obviously, was soaked in a very dense, very heavy fog at the airbase." Barstow airport is the former Barstow U.S. Air Force base that closed in 1961.
The private plane crashed just north of the airport toward the end of a runway. It left the hangar at 6:30 a.m., before the sun rose, and took off east into heavy fog, Judd said.
"Our heart breaks," Judd said. "You know, certainly, we wish we could rewind this and if we could, I would wrestle him to the floor to keep him from getting into this airplane this morning," Judd said.
Last year 386 people were killed in 213 fatal general aviation accidents, an average of fewer than two per crash, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Fewer than 10% of these types of plane crashes result in four or more deaths.
General aviation excludes commercial flights and civilian air transport for hire and often involves planes with fewer than 10 seats.
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More than 9 in 10 plane-crash deaths occur in general-aviation accidents, according to the NTSB. Although the number of general-aviation deaths increased slightly from 2015 to 2016, the number of fatal accidents was down by nearly 20, so the fatal accident rate fell lower than 1 per 100,000 flight hours for the first time in 50 years.
But traffic accidents account for far more transportation deaths, 95% of total transportation deaths, the agency said. In 2016, highway deaths totaled 39,339, up more than 5% from the previous year.
In Florida, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will be investigating Sunday's plane crash.
Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Andrew Krietz on Twitter: @akrietz