ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Sometime Sunday morning, Ommy Irizarry posted a message on Facebook to mark his ninth wedding anniversary.
“I am very happy and can’t wait to see what the next 100 have in store for us,” he wrote, and tagged his wife, Rebecca, in the post.
But hours later, Irizarry, 36 was killed during a freak plane crash on a Florida Gulf Coast beach near Sarasota, where they were celebrating their anniversary. The couple’s daughter, 9-year-old Oceana, was critically injured.
The 1972 Piper Cherokee lost a wheel, damaged a wing and smashed its propeller shortly after making a distress call about 2:45 p.m. Sunday to Venice Municipal Airport, officials said. The plane crash-landed on Caspersen Beach, just south of the airport, at the southern tip of the island of Venice.
Irizarry and his daughter were hit by the plane or its debris, officials said.
Irizarry died at the scene. His daughter was airlifted to All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. Officials have not released further information about the victims. The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating.
Family friend Kim Howard described Irizarry as “a great, hands-on father” to three children. He was an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia, according to officials, and Howard said the family was scheduled to be stationed in Alaska.
The couple’s Facebook pages were filled with photos of the family enjoying beaches in Georgia and in Ommy’s native Puerto Rico. On Saturday, Ommy posted a photo from a beach near Sarasota, with the words “I love Mom + Dad,” scrawled in the sand, with the symbol for a heart in place of the word love.
Rebecca’s page showed a photo of her and her husband in the water, smiling for the camera. About 4 p.m. Sunday, she wrote: “We need prayers, now! Please stop and pray for Ommy and Oceana.”
It’s unclear how the plane or the debris hit father and daughter. A woman calling 911 from at the airport first informed officials that the plane would be landing on the beach.
“He’s trying to make the airport,” said the caller. “He says he’s not going to make the airport. But he’s going to be on the beach.”
In other 911 calls, a family friend cried as she described the scene while screams and wailing could be heard in the background. Another man told a dispatcher about the little girl’s condition.
“She’s breathing a little right now,” a man said. “Rapid pulse and difficult breathing. She’s unconscious.”
Sheriff’s officials say the pilot radioed the airport that he was having trouble with the plane and was planning to land on the beach because he could not make it to the airport.
“He landed on the edge of the water,” said Wendy Rose, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman.
Officials say the pilot was Karl Kokomoor, 57, and the passenger was David Theen, 60, both of nearby Englewood. They were not injured.
National Transportation and Safety Board spokesman Terry Williams said the plane will be removed from the beach Monday afternoon.