Crashed Boeing 737 moved to Green Cove Springs

Cockpit voice recorder recovered after plane lifted from river Tuesday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Boeing 737 that had flown for 18 years made its final voyage Wednesday strapped down to a barge. The jet was towed 18 miles up the St. Johns River to an industrial park in Green Cove Springs.

The Miami Air International plane that skidded off a runway at Naval Air Station Jacksonville crashed through the seawall and landed in the river Friday night was lifted out of the water by two cranes Tuesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board recovered the cockpit voice recorder Tuesday that had been in the belly of the plane below the water line for four days. Once on a barge, the 45-ton aircraft was moved away from the end of runway 10/28 so air operations at the Navy base could resume Wednesday morning.


Timelapse of Sky4 aerials
Marine4 video under Buckman Bridge

SLIDESHOW: Barge/plane on the river

It the cranes on two barges most of Tuesday to lift the jet onto a barge

Wednesday morning, the plane began the 18-mile river journey and just before 10 a.m., it slowly passed under the Buckman Bridge. The Florida Highway Patrol had urged motorists not to stop or slow down on the bridge to see it or take pictures, and traffic appeared to flow normally during the spectacle.

The barge was surrounded by patrol boats to make sure private boaters couldn't get too close. 

Lifelong Jacksonville resident Deborah McLaughlin was among those living on the river to watch the barge go by.

"I was glad there weren’t any problems going underneath the Buckman," McLaughlin said. "I think it’s interesting to have the opportunity to see something like this.”

"I’ll probably never see it again in probably a lifetime," Debby Piasta said as she watched with more than a dozen others gathered at Walter Jones Park, off Mandarin Road.

Once the barge arrived at Reynolds Industrial Park, crews from Mobro Marine began removing things like luggage to lessen the weight of the plane to make it easier to lift. They don't plan to lift it off the barge until Thursday morning.

"Right now, we’re doing a little planning, a little preparation, because the lifts are a little different than the lifts we did yesterday," Mobro CFO Steve Cumell said. "Once we’re ready, we’ll go over and do the two lifts."

Once the plane is on the dock. It will be fenced off and NTSB inspectors will take it apart to document the condition of equipment and systems, according to Ted McGowan, executive director of Reynolds. 

McGowan said that after the federal inspectors complete their physical examination -- probably a two-week process -- the plane will be scrapped.


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 are supplied by Mobro Marine. 

RELATED: Clay County company salvages Boeing 737

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 that the aircraft remained partially submerged in the river, officials said.

All the fuel was out of the tanks by Monday night, and three barges, 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 earlier in the week 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 cost.

None of the 143 people onboard had serious injuries from the Friday night's crash landing. A dog and two cats died in the cargo hold.

About the Authors: