Student, instructor presumed dead in plane crash at Flagler-St. Johns county line
by: Larry Spruill, Action News Jax Updated: Jul 14, 2017 - 11:42 PM
Action News Jax is learning more about what could have caused a small plane to crash in the woods on the Flager/St. Johns county line.
The NTSB is investigating the crash. They believe an aviation instructor and student from a flight school in Ormond Beach were in the plane. The plane took off from Brunswick, Georgia, and was expected to land in Ormond Beach.
“This was a basic flight, evening-night flight, from Brunswick to Ormond Beach,” former airline pilot and Capt. Wayne Ziskal said.
That was the route of what Ziskal calls a simple flight plan, but the trip was anything but normal.
Piece by piece, search crews removed the plane from the woods on Friday in Flagler County after it crashed, presumably killing the aviation instructor and student pilot.
James Kestner said he was at home when he heard the crash.
“It was clearly an engine flaming out. Then very quickly, about 5 to 6 seconds later, I heard a loud boom and the ground actually shook,” Kestner said.
Now NTSB investigators are trying to figure out what happened. FAA records show the plane was manufactured in 1979 and was just acquired by Sunrise Aviation in February of this year.
Ziskal said investigators will look at everything from the plane to the conditions that night.
“The weather was nice, the navigation was no problem, it’s dark to one side and it's light to the other side. The issue also then becomes was the airplane structurally sound. If there was an engine problem, the airplane could certainly fly on one engine,” Ziskal said.
Ziskal said there’s another factor to this investigation.
“There were several airports in the vicinity, St. Augustine over the shoulder, Flagler right near, several airports the plane could have landed at,” Ziskal said.
Jacksonville, Fl. - Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staley says it’s expected that no one survived a plane crash that happened near Marineland.
“The plane is heavily damaged, it doesn't look like there are any survivors.” Sheriff Staley said.
The sheriff said it’s a “search and recovery” operation now and the NTSB will investigate the incident.
The FAA has confirmed that 2 people were on board the aircraft , but the Sheriff’s Office received information that another person was on board, and have not been able to confirm and won’t be able to until they get to the wreckage.
The plane was found on the shore of the Intracoastal waterway of the Mangrove area of the River-to-the-Sea state park.
The sheriff says that the plane that crashed is from The Sunrise Aviation Academy, and the school has said they are searching for a missing instructor and student. The victims have not yet been identified.
At this point, investigators say, the plane had a “hard impact” and went straight down after clipping a tree. The Sheriff says that it doesn't appear the plane nosedived.
“Obviously something occurred that caused it to lose altitude” says Sheriff Staley
The NTSB will be working to determine the final cause and details of the crash.
Multiple agencies assisted in the search for the wreckage, including the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.
“Our hope was, of course, survivors,” Staley says.
The FAA says it lost radar contact with a Piper PA44 aircraft approximately 22 miles north of Ormond Beach at about 11 p.m. Thursday.
A witness reported seeing an aircraft go down in the area. The aircraft took off from Brunswick, GA and was heading to Ormond Beach.
This is a developing story, refresh throughout the day for updates.
A 12-hour search by land, water and air ended just before noon Friday when a Piper PA-44 Seminole trainer aircraft sought since the FAA first reported losing contact with it Thursday night was found upside-down in dense brush near Marineland and the Flagler/ St. Johns County line.
Crushed and cracked in half according to images just released by the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, it appears those on board are dead, according to Sheriff Rick Staly.
The white airplane had been the subject of a search by multiple state, federal and local agencies since the FAA lost contact with it around 11 p.m. Thursday, Staly said.
The plane was being operated by Sunrise Flight Academy in Ormond Beach, and its training director confirmed a student from Saudi Arabia and an instructor are both missing, according to First Coast News.
The FAA said that it lost contact with the Piper PA-44 aircraft approximately 22 miles north of Ormond Beach. The Coast Guard said it went down in the vicinity of Pellicer Creek, after taking off from Brunswick and heading to Ormond Beach. Witnesses heard what they described as the sound of an engine sputtering as the aircraft flew by, according to First Coast News.
Just after 11:30 a.m., the main part of the aircraft was discovered by a news helicopter from Orlando’s WESH-TV, crashed in the 90-acre River to Sea Preserve, which straddles both sides of Florida and is owned jointly by Flagler County and the Town of Marineland.
Staly said he had been to the wreck site and it appears that the aircraft clipped a tree and flipped over. Only one victim’s body was visible when he joined investigators there Friday morning, one of its landing gear deployed on the flattened wreckage surrounded by dense palmettos, according to Sheriff’s Office photos.
“It is a very tragic ending to a search. You always hope you can find people alive. There is no indication we will find survivors,” Staly said. “… I can see one [body]. It is a very crumpled aircraft, and by how it’s lying, you can’t see into the fuselage.”
The 34-year-old flight school, which also calls itself Sunrise Aviation, is based at 740 Airport Road in Ormond Beach. Sunrise is also a flight training provider for Florida State College at Jacksonville’s degree programs in professional pilot technology, as well as at Polk State College at Lakeland, Florida. It has satellite training facilities at Jacksonville’s Cecil and Herlong Recreational airports. The academy says it is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration on its website.
Staly couldn’t confirm how many people were in the airplane as what was a search and rescue operation shifted to a recovery effort that will see a crane brought in to flip it over so investigators can get inside. Staff at the Sunrise Flight Academy’s satellite office at Craig Airport did not wish to comment when reached. But a sign on the front door of its Ormond Beach office said all school activities were cancelled Friday since it is “dealing with an emergency involving one of its aircraft,” according to an image tweeted by First Coast News. The note also states a meeting was set for Friday afternoon with all cadets and instructors.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office command post was relocated to the crash site, which is on dry land, to “protect the scene.” The National Transportation Safety Board will take over the crash investigation.
“The indications are no one survived. It is clear one person is deceased inside the aircraft,” Staly said. “We can’t get inside to see how many more.”
Flagler County Sheriff’s Office Chief Mark Strobridge, who saw the wrecked aircraft, said it will be “days or weeks” before investigators can officially confirm who was on board. But rescuers got to the site on foot and via Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission airboat to find the aircraft “fairly intact,” Staly said.
“It was a hard impact,” he said, adding there was no sign of fire.
The Piper Seminole is a 27.6-foot-long aircraft with two 180-hp engines on a 38.6-foot wingspan, and has been built for more than 20 years, according to the aircraft company website.
Coast Guard assisted in the search for survivors, a crew aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater was launched at 2:15 a.m. St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and Fire Rescue as well as the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office joined in the search efforts.
MARINELAND, FL (WTLV/WJXX) -- The wreckage of a small plane that crashed late Thursday has been found in a remote area near the Flagler-St. Johns County line. Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said he believes there were no survivors.
The Flagler County Sheriff's Office confirmed that the plane they found is the same one they had been looking for that flew out of Sunrise Aviation flight school in Ormond Beach near Daytona.
Sunrise Aviation director of training Patrick Murphy told First Coast News that a 27-year-old student from Saudi Arabia and a 70-year-old instructor went missing. He said he believes they were on the plane, but this has yet to be confirmed by authorities.
The FAA said it lost contact with a Piper PA-44 aircraft approximately 22 miles north of Ormond Beach around 11 p.m. Thursday.
The aircraft took off on what the flight school calls a routine flight from St. Simons Island, Georgia and was returning to Ormond Beach when it disappeared. A crew aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater was launched at 2:15 a.m.
The sheriff said the plane might have clipped a tree before crashing. Witnesses heard what they described as the sound of an engine sputtering.
The 27-year-old student has a young daughter and wife in Saudi Arabia. He was aiming to go back home to fly for an airline, First Coast News has learned.
"Most of our students are international, so we get to know them close," Murphy said. "Students are family, particularly in this kind of program where students come to us for six or 12 months."
Sunrise Aviation has been around since the 1980s. An official with the flight school said this is the first crash in which someone was critically hurt or killed.
Piper PA-44-180 Seminole
Owner/operator: Sunrise Aviation Academy
C/n / msn: 44-7995245
Fatalities: Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities: 0
Airplane damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location: St Johns/Flagler County Line near Marineland, Florida - United States of America
Phase: En route
Departure airport: McKinnon St Simons Island (KSSI)
Destination airport: Ormond Beach Munir (KOMN)
The plane crashed under unknown circumstances. The aircraft came to rest inverted in mangrove terrain. The two pilots onboard the airplane were fatally injured.