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Plane crashes with 2 on board near Mayport, Coast Guard says

Aviation expert says likely recovery effort, not rescue, after plane goes down

A single-engine plane with two people on board crashed in the water off the coast of Little Talbot Island on Thursday morning, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

A Piper PA-46 aircraft went down just after 9 a.m. Thursday, the FAA said.

Several agencies responded after the U.S. Coast Guard received word of the crash about 2 miles east of the St. Johns River Inlet near Mayport. The Coast Guard said the aircraft was headed to New Jersey from Orlando.

The Coast Guard Cutter Ridley continued to search throughout the night and searchers were back out again Friday.

Ed Booth, a board-certified aviation law attorney with more than 40 years’ experience flying, said he believes this is a recovery effort, not a rescue.

“The airplane climbs normally up to its cruising altitude of approximately 22,000 feet,” Booth said. “At this point, it's just offshore of the Ponte Vedra section of Jacksonville when at 9:01, something happens, and the airplane goes from 22,000 feet down to 1,500 feet.”

Booth followed the Piper Malibu aircraft's path through a tracker that showed it took off from a Kissimmee airport at 8:22 a.m. on an instrument flight plan to New Jersey, a 1,000-mile trip well within the range of the airplane.

But it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean at 9:04 a.m.

Booth said he believes the pilot ignored weather reports.

"A distance of almost 3 miles of straight down in less than two minutes. That suggests to me an in-flight breakup or some sort of loss of control, causing the airplane to spiral down," Booth said. "The FAA teaches pilots to remain 20-30 miles away from this weather. The pilot didn’t heed that advice."

Booth said that 77 of these airplanes, which are manufactured by Piper in Vero Beach, have been involved in fatal accidents that have killed 171 people. The primary cause of a majority of these accidents is pilot error, with the pilot losing control of the airplane and in a few instances overstressing the airframe to the point of an in flight breakup, Booth said.

He said the National Transportation Safety Board and FAA conducted a thorough review of the certification of the airplane in 1992 and found the airplane safe and structurally sound if operated properly, but at that time pilots were specifically cautioned to follow certain procedures when operating in adverse weather. 

Those new procedures have been in use for 26 years, and pilots operating the airplane are required to follow them, Booth said.

"Piper’s position is that it is a safe airplane and this is all due to pilot error, and there is some truth in that," Booth said. "This is a challenging airplane to fly in certain flight conditions."

Booth said the wreckage will be very fragmented, as the plane would have hit the water at a high rate of speed. He said a plane would likely only fall that fast if it lost its wings.

The FAA will investigate and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine the probable cause of the accident.

News4Jax contacted Piper but we have not gotten a response to our request for comment.

The individual known to own this plane is a doctor out of Texas. The names of the individuals in the crash have not been released.

The Coast Guard said the agencies assisting in the response are:

  • Coast Guard Air Station Savannah MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew
  • Coast Guard Air Station Miami MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew
  • Coast Guard Air Station Miami HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft crew
  • Coast Guard Station Mayport 45-foot Response Boat – Medium crew
  • U.S. Navy assets
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection 
  • St. John's and St. Augustine Fire & Rescue

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