JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A dog and two cats belonging to a military family died in the cargo hold of an aircraft that skidded off a runway into the St. Johns River on Friday night, according to Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
A total of four animals were on board the flight. A dog traveling in the cabin was safely removed from the plane by its owner.
All 143 people aboard the Miami Air Boeing 737 survived and most were uninjured.
A Navy statement early Saturday said safety issues had prevented rescuers from retrieving the animals from the cargo hold, adding that "our hearts and prayers go out to those pet owners."
Capt. Mike Connor, commanding officer of NAS Jacksonville, said first responders did check the cargo bay soon after making sure all people had been safely taken to shore.
"They did not see anything. They did not hear any animal noises. They could not see any crates," Connor said.
Because of the precarious conditions at the time, the responders had to back out for their own safety, Connor said. Later that evening he asked them to go back and check again.
"We asked them to specifically look for pet carriers, and they could not see any pet carriers that were above the water line," Connor said.
NAS Jacksonville posted an update Sunday night on Facebook, saying the remains of the three pets in the hold had been recovered.
“Those who were involved in this sad tasking performed the recovery in the most dignified way possible with the base veterinarian on site to ensure all protocols were followed,” the post said.
The post said the pets will be cremated through a local company.
"Every possible avenue to rescue these animals was pursued following the incident," according to the post.