JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Boeing 737 Miami Air International plane that skidded beyond the runway at Naval Air Station Jacksonville and into the St. Johns River on Friday night was lifted out of the water Tuesday afternoon.
It took most of the day for two crews on barges to lift the jet, estimated to weigh 45 tons, onto a third barge. It was then towed away from the Navy runway for the night so air operations at the Navy base could resume.
On Wednesday morning, the barge carrying the plane will be towed south on the river, under the Buckman Bridge and on to a secure location in Green Cove Springs for further analysis by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The barge is expected to pass under the Buckman Bridge around 10 a.m. Wednesday. The Florida Highway Patrol urged motorists not to stop or slow down on the bridge to see it or take pictures.
The NTSB announced late Tuesday it had recovered the cockpit voice recorder, which had been inaccessible while part of the plane was under water.
Moran Environmental Recovery LLC, which is handling the operation, has done large-scale salvage operations for the Navy before. It salvaged a tugboat in the river in 2016. The barges and tugboats used today were operated by Mobro Marine.
"If they would have gone off more into deeper water, it probably would have been worse," said Melinda Blunk who was on out on a jet ski watching the salvage operation. "Thankfully, it is very shallow right there and they did not go out that far."
Before workers could start the removal process, all fuel had to be removed from the plane, an effort that was complicated by stormy weather Sunday and the fact the aircraft remained partially submerged in the river, officials said.
All the fuel was out of the tanks by Monday night and three barges and two of which had cranes aboard, were moved into place Tuesday morning. Straps were placed under the fuselage and the plane was slowly lifted higher in the water.
A Navy spokesperson said 1,200 gallons of fuel was removed, which would mean about 400 gallons leaked into the river. Crews had set up booms to contain the spill, and it's uncertain how much of the fuel was recovered from the water.
The St. Johns Riverkeeper said Monday that environmental damage appeared to be minimal.
A Navy spokesperson said the Navy is not paying for the removal of the plane. The cost is being covered by Miami Air's insurance company. She did not say how much it was costing.
The aircraft, arriving from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, slid off the runway into the St. Johns River Friday night with 143 passengers and air crew on board. All were safely rescued with minor injuries.
NTSB representatives are investigating the cause of the accident.