wjxt logo

NTSB details chilling final moments before deadly plane crash

Father, son from New Jersey killed in December crash off coast of Mayport

MAYPORT, Fla. – A father and son from New Jersey who died in a plane crash off the coast of Mayport just before Christmas realized they were in trouble about four minutes before their Piper PA46 plunged into the ocean, according to information in a preliminary federal report.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which issued the report, is the lead agency investigating the crash that killed Peter Renzulli, 51, and his 18-year-old son, Daniel.

The pair were en route to New Jersey from Kissimmee Gateway Airport in Orlando on Dec. 20 when their single-engine plane ran into trouble over the Atlantic Ocean.

READ: NTSB preliminary report on deadly plane crash | 
RELATED: Father, son on plane that crashed in Atlantic Ocean

The NTSB report lays out the tragic timeline:

  • At 8:59, Peter Renzulli contacted air traffic control at 22,000 feet. Air traffic control said the plane was flying through moderate and heavy rain. 
  • At 9:00:22, the plane rose to an altitude above the freezing line. The NTSB cannot be sure who was flying the plane at the time.
  • At 9:02:14, the trouble began. The pilot lost control, and the aircraft began to turn left and then right.
  • Less than a minute later, the airplane descended 2,400 feet. Air traffic control attempted to contact the pilot but got no reply.
  • At 9:03:27, the plane had dropped to 14,500 feet and the pilot said, “We’re not OK. We need help.”
  • Seconds later, an occupant said, “I’m not sure what’s happening. I have anti-ice and everything,” while the plane continued to descend. 
  • The occupant then told the tower he could not maintain altitude.
  • At 9:04:32, the aircraft was at 3,300 feet and an occupant said the plane had flipped upside down and asked for help. That was the last anyone heard from inside the plane
  • Seconds later, the tower got a final radar hit from the plane after it had dropped to 1,700 feet.

“What is chilling to me is they knew they were about to die,” News4Jax aviation expert Ed Booth said. “The pilot knew he was in trouble. He knew the weather was bad. He'd been warned about it specifically by the air controller.”

The wreckage off the jetties in Mayport was found using side scan sonar technology and was pulled from the ocean Feb. 6. The NTSB still has the plane for further investigation.

It could be a year before the agency releases a final report.

An aviation attorney representing the Renzulli family said his clients had no comment on the preliminary report because it remains an ongoing investigation.

About the Author:

Multi-media journalist with a special interest in Georgia issues.