Suburban pilot dies in Florida crash; two teen girls hurt
BY TINA SFONDELES, FRANK MAIN, LINDA BLASER AND REEMA AMIN Staff Reporters March 22, 2014 8:58AM
Investigators look at the wreckage of a small plane that crashed early Saturday in Clearwater, Fla. The pilot, Jeffrey Bronken, 53, of Round Lake, was killed. His teenage daughter and her friend were injured.
Updated: April 24, 2014 10:08AM
Exactly one year ago, Katherine Bronken posted a cockpit photo showing her flying to Florida with her dad in their beloved red-and-white, single-engine Piper airplane.
“You can be the pilot and I’ll be your copilot,” the Round Lake teenager wrote in an Instagram posting.
She placed these tags on her photo: #flying buddies, #ilovehim, #ourplane, #memories, #florida and #stoked.
Early Saturday, she and her father were on their way to Florida for another spring break getaway. Katherine brought along her softball teammate, Keyana Linbo, who could barely contain her excitement. “T-24 hours=paradise,” Keyana wrote on Twitter earlier in the week.
But their journey ended in disaster about eight miles short of their destination, the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, when their plane crashed about 4 a.m. in Clearwater, killing Katherine’s father, 53-year-old Jeffrey Bronken. The girls, both 15, were seriously injured.
“It’s a shock. It’s a shame. It’s a fantastic family. You don’t understand sometimes why these things happen,” said Ken Hoxie, a neighbor of the Bronkens in Round Lake.
It wasn’t the first time the Bronkens have suffered the heartache of a fatal accident. On Dec. 19, 2009, Jeffrey Bronken’s daughter Christine Bronken died at the age of 20 in a snowmobile crash in Three Lakes, Wis., according to records from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Reports show she failed to follow the snowmobile route, lost control and tried to brake before going airborne and striking a home. Speed and alcohol were listed as factors in the fatal crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Pinellas County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office were trying to determine the cause of Saturday’s plane crash.
The Piper PA-28-181 was flying from Campbell Airport in Grayslake to the St. Pete-Clearwater airport. The plane hit power lines before crashing nose-first into a median on a six-lane street, authorities said.
NTSB records show the same plane was involved in a crash May 12, 1997, at Campbell Airport. A private pilot overran a landing, leaving the taxiway. The plane came to rest “nose-down” in a small canal off the end of the roadway. The pilot wasn’t injured. The plane, which was built in 1980, was owned by another private pilot at the time.
Neighbors said Bronken’s wife flew to Florida after learning of the crash.
Jeffrey Bronken owned a Highland Park company called The Glass Man Inc., which specializes in glass contracting for homes. FAA records show the plane was registered to the glass business and that Bronken was licensed as a private pilot in October 2007.
Hoxie said he’s known the Bronken family for 15 years. He described Jeffrey Bronken as a “larger-than-life” man, who was always helping out whenever he could in the neighborhood.
Hoxie said he coached “Katie,” a freshman at Grant High School, in junior high volleyball.
“She’s just a great person,” Hoxie said, adding that his daughter and Katie Bronken “are like sisters.”
Lisa Roberts, another neighbor, said Jeffrey Bronken once went house-to-house to help neighbors install sprinkling systems.
“He was really active around the house. They always do their house up all year long. The landscaping was just groomed perfectly, and they had all these beautiful mums,” Roberts said.
Tina Sfondeles, Frank Main and Reema Amin are Sun-Times staff reporters. Linda Blaser is a reporter with Pioneer Press.