NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
The student pilot was instructed by his flight instructor to preflight the Cessna 172R airplane and then wait for the instructor before beginning the training flight. Witnesses stated that the student pilot proceeded to the airplane, removed the wing tie-downs, boarded the airplane, started the engine, and immediately taxied to runway 35R without the flight instructor The student pilot then took off from the runway without communicating with the airport Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower. The tower controllers stated that the airplane turned to the right and headed toward the southeast immediately after takeoff. No transponder signal was received from the airplane. The tower controllers notified Tampa ATC approach controllers, and they also notified the pilots of a Coast Guard helicopter that was flying in the local area. Additionally, the controllers made numerous attempts to contact the pilot by emergency radio frequency, but were unsuccessful. The Coast Guard helicopter pilots were asked to intercept the airplane. The airplane proceeded to a local Air Force military base and over flew the base control tower, two aircraft, and three hangars at a low altitude. The airplane was then observed to alter its heading toward a tall office building in the city of Tampa. While en route to the building, the Coast Guard helicopter pilots intercepted the airplane and attempted to signal the pilot to land. According to the helicopter pilots, the student pilot saw their hand gestures and gestured back to them; however, the helicopter pilots could not determine the kind and meaning of the gestures that the student pilot exhibited. Shortly thereafter, the airplane impacted the office building at the 28th-floor level. An examination of the airframe, systems, and engine did not reveal any evidence of preimpact mechanical malfunction. No indications of ethanol or drugs were found in specimens taken from the student pilot. A 2-page suicide note was found on the student pilot’s person.