ST. MARYS, Ga. – People waiting to board a ferry to Cumberland Island late Friday morning saw a small plane in distress and called 911. Minutes later, it crashed into the St. Marys River.
“We were just standing there waiting to get on the ferry and I just happened to look up and saw the plane. I thought it was doing a maneuver,” witness Bryan Womak told News4Jax. “It was already falling about 400 feet when I saw it diving. I said look at that plane. I assumed it was going to pull up, but it never did.”
St. Marys police told News4Jax the bodies of a 66-year-old flight instructor and an 18-year-old student pilot were recovered from the wreckage in 17-feet of water.
Police said it was to have been the flight instructor’s last day on the job at A-Cent Aviation Inc. The student’s father identified her as Alexis George, who graduated from Fernandina Beach High School last week, had a passion for flying and earned a full scholarship to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.
George’s father said the tragedy has been tough on her family and friends. Her father also wanted the world to know one more thing about his beloved daughter.
“She loved life. She believed in God. She’s gone to a better place,” father Michael George told News4Jax.
The Sheriff’s Office said deputies and the dive team responded and Florida Fish and Wildlife sent marine units to help. The Florida Highway Patrol is the primary agency handling the crash and the National Transportation Safety Board and FAA will also investigate.
According to a preliminary report by FHP, the plane suffered an unknown malfunction while flying.
News4Jax aviation expert Ed Booth explained why the Cessna may have sunk so fast.
“One of the characteristics of this airplane, if it attempts to ditch in water, is it will flip upside down and sink, which appears to be what happened. That is due to the landing gear being fixed, welded down if you will. A retractable gear airplane is much easier in water than a fixed-gear airplane,” Booth said.
What exactly malfunctioned and the cause of that malfunction in the air will be investigated by NTSB.
But for now, a community is left mourning.
George said his daughter had already completed her first solo flight and that she was flying with her instructor to get more flight experience under her belt.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane, a single-engine Cessna 150, took off from Fernandina Beach Airport.