Skip to content

Man recounts escape from helicopter water landing near Tampa’s Peter O. Knight Airport

Just 90 minutes after he said he had lost hope of getting out of the water, 28-year-old Hunter Happ stepped out of the Peter O. Knight airport terminal wrapped in white sheets. He said it still doesn’t hit him that he survived after being trapped in a submerged helicopter.

Hap, his 62-year-old father, 59-year-old mother, and a 33-year-old pilot pilot took a helicopter tour when they had to make an emergency landing about 200 yards from the Davis Islands just after 5:00. had finished. Thursday afternoon, Happ said. All four were safe with no injuries.

They were due to land at the airport, but Happ said he heard a pop from the rotor above his head. Lt. Daniel College of the Tampa Police Department said the helicopter’s engine had failed. Happ said the helicopter would not return to the airport.

In an interview at the airport, Hap said, “I’m very surprised to be standing here to talk to you.

Happ arrived in Tampa from his home in Philadelphia on Saturday. His tour of a helicopter flying over Tampa and heading to the beach before returning to the airport in the Davis Islands was his gift for Christmas. He said he had never been in a helicopter and neither had his parents. His father is afraid of heights.

After Thursday’s experience, Happ said they weren’t planning on riding helicopters again.

Happ said he was caught under his seat belt and cords when the helicopter hit the water and began to sink. He said he had trouble escaping as his parents and the pilot escaped and surfaced.

Hap joked.

Hap said he started to give up, but he thought his parents were hovering over him.

Finally he freed himself. Happ estimates that from 45 seconds he was in the water for one minute.

Among the bystanders who helped rescue the family from the water was Blaine Gabbert, backup quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“We are currently coordinating with local and federal agencies regarding the investigation and eventual recovery of the helicopter,” the Tampa Police Department said in a news release.

Hap said he made a dinner reservation with his parents for Thursday night. Those plans were canceled after they returned to shore, he said.

Instead, Hap was going to eat takeout sushi and drink “all bourbon.”

Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report.

Stay on top of what’s happening in Tampa

Subscribe to the free Tampa Times Newsletter

Twice a week, we bring you the biggest roundup of Tampa community news.

You are all signed up!

Want a free weekly newsletter added to your inbox? let’s start.

explore all options