Search Suspended For 20th Person On Downed Plane
19 Dead, 1 Missing After Seaplane Crash
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- A seaplane carrying 20 people crashed into the water within sight of this city's high-rises Monday, killing 19 people, authorities said. The other person has not been found. Witnesses said the plane exploded in the air. Nineteen bodies were recovered after the Chalk's Ocean Airways propeller plane crashed around 2:30 p.m. after takeoff en route to Bimini in the Bahamas, Coast Guard officials said. Two crewmembers were aboard along with 18 passengers, including three infants. Sandy Rodriguez, 14, said he saw the plane flying low with white smoke trailing from it and flames coming from the bottom. The right wing then fell off as the plane went down, he said.
Surfer: 'Something Was Really Wrong'
"It exploded in the air and one of the wings flew out of there. The other part of the plane was on fire and it just went straight down," said Maurice D'Giovianni, 42, a surfer who was in the water at the time. Coast Guard spokesman Dana Warr also saw the crash from the Coast Guard office on an island in Government Cut, a channel just west of where the plane went down. Cargo and cruise ships use the channel to sail from the Atlantic past the posh South Beach neighborhood into the Port of Miami, which was closed because of the crash. "Everything looked normal, I saw the aircraft take off like it does every other time. I didn't think anything of it when I saw the black smoke from the pier, until I then heard the Coast Guard alarms go off," he said.
Coast Guard Capt. James Maes said the main part of the plane's fuselage was submerged in about 35 feet of water that is subject to strong tidal currents because of the narrow ship channel. Divers suspended their search Monday night for the final victim.
Ship traffic in and out of the port will be suspended indefinitely, Maes added. That includes three large cruise ships that had been scheduled to depart Monday afternoon.
Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the initial investigation will focus on locating the plane's cockpit voice recorder and on examining maintenance logs, operations records and the like. He said much of the wreckage, including the main fuselage, would likely be raised Tuesday. "We'll be looking at everything in this investigation. Nothing is off the table," Rosenker said.
The historic airline's twin-engine Grumman G-73T Turbine Mallard was operating under visual flight rules, said Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board planned to investigate, but didn't know the cause of the crash.
The aircraft that went down was built in 1947 and is registered to Seaplane Adventures LLC in Greenwich, Conn., according to FAA records. According to the FAA, the plane had a clean safety record with few major reported incidents. On Sept. 21, 2002, the plane skidded on a runway in Fort Lauderdale after its landing gear failed as the plane touched down. No one was injured.
In Fort Lauderdale on April 17, 1984, the landing gear failed because of a stress failure. On Feb. 10, 1984, in West Palm Beach, the elevator trim tab that controls pitch failed, causing "extreme shaking and vibration." No passengers or crew were injured in either incident.
Coast Guard officials and emergency workers wearing protective suits hauled bodies wrapped in black bags from rescue boats. Law enforcement speedboats, divers and helicopters were in the area doing searches. They were joined by others in private boats, on personal watercraft and on surfboards. Because of the reports that there was an explosion, the FBI sent agents to assist in the investigation but there was no immediate indication of terrorism or criminal intent, said Judy Orihuela, spokeswoman for the FBI's Miami field office. "It's too soon to say whether we are going to get involved," Orihuela said. "We're just going to check it out."
Officials asked anyone who finds debris in the area to call Miami Beach police at (305) 673-7901.
Chalk's is too small to fall under the federal guidelines that require that passengers and their luggage be inspected by Transportation Security Administration screeners, said Dale Karlen, federal security director at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The skies were cloudy at the time of the crash, but there was no rain or lightning in the area.
NBC 6's Amara Sohn spoke with a woman who said she had family on board the plane.
"The flight was going to Bimini," she said. "The only thing that we know was that something happened after takeoff. My father-in-law and my nephew were on that plane."
Garred Gadaon, 34, who was outside the Miami Beach Police Department, said his sister-in-law Jackey Lavarity, 38, and her 13-year-old daughter, were on the plane. "The Christmas holiday is a joyful holiday. We had a tragic death today with many of our family members and our friends. It doesn't seem real. Chalks has always been a safe plane for us, "said Gadaon.
He said that the airline confirmed his sister-in-law and niece were aboard. "My family was on there. No survivors. None," Gadaon said.
Bahamian Prime Minister Perry G. Christie said in a statement that the consul general in Miami, Alma Adams, has already met some family members at the scene of the accident. The statement did not say how many Bahamians were among the victims. "The nation wishes to express its deepest condolences to the people of Bimini on their apparent loss," Christie said.
Chalk's Ocean Airways
Chalk's Ocean Airways was founded in 1919 and its aircraft have been featured in TV shows like "Miami Vice." Its floating planes take off in view of the port and waterfront multimillion-dollar homes that dot islands in the bay. Founded by Arthur "Pappy" Chalk, the small airline thrived during Prohibition, taking bootleggers, their customers and Customs agents to Bimini.
One of its Grumman Goose's was hijacked to Cuba in 1974 and the company has since had a policy of not carrying enough fuel to get to Havana. Two years later, the airline was sold to Resorts International, which owned properties on Paradise Island. Donald Trump bought it in 1988 and sold it a few months later to Merv Griffin.
Chalk's was bought by Florida businessman Jim Confalone in mid-July 1999, was rechristened as Chalk's Ocean Airways and was in the midst of an "extensive refurbishment" of its airline fleet, according to the company's Web site. The company's Grumman G-73 aircraft -- like the one that crashed -- had engines converted from older piston-driven models to Pratt & Whitney turboprops, upgrades in avionics and improvements to the plane's interior, the company said. Chalk's general manager Roger Nair released few details, but said it was the airline's first accident with a passenger fatality. The National Transportation Safety Board database indicates no fatal accidents involving passengers for Chalk's since 1982, when the database began.
The only crash involving fatalities occurred March 18, 1994, when two pilots died after their seaplane crashed near Key West.
big dupe pal
another one? I swear there must have been 5 or 6 of the damn things!
That camera phone came in handy though.
lol i guess the news in italy runs alittle slow
Not as slow as the trains.