The charred wreckage of the twin turbine propeller plane that crashed near the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport killing four people was hauled to Fort Pierce Monday.
Investigators now begin the process of sifting through more than 100 pieces to determine what caused the plane to go down on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
The “major components of the plane,” including the propellers, control area and tail were recovered from the 250-feet long and 50-feet-wide wreckage site in a nature preserve adjacent to the airport, said Peter Knudson, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
“We gradually rule things out, but we really do look at everything,” he said.
On Monday, the NTSB — which is investigating the crash along with the Federal Aviation Administration — also released some new information about the ill-fated crash that began at the Orlando Executive airport.
Just before the 4:25 p.m. crash — with the 1979 Piper PA 31 aircraft about two miles from the airport — the pilot called air traffic control to report smoke in the cockpit. There was one last distress call to air traffic control before the plane went down, Knudson said.
The flight tracking website FlightAware.com showed that the aircraft, which can seat up to eight passengers and is often used for corporate flights, had taken off at 3:21 p.m. The site also shows that the pilot’s first call to the Miami Center — an FAA radar complex that monitors flights that depart and arrive in the South Florida area — came as the plane reached an altitude of 8,000 feet.
Knudson said it wasn’t clear Monday what caused the smoke or the plane to go down near the 2400 block of Northwest 62nd Street, about a quarter-mile from the airport. The pilot had been cleared for an emergency landing.
Meanwhile, the bodies of the four people killed in the plane crash were at the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office awaiting identification, Fort Lauderdale police reported Monday afternoon.
“The process of positively identifying the occupants of this aircraft is a meticulous task,” Fort Lauderdale police said in a news release.
Detectives do not expect to release those names until Tuesday.
The plane, which was purchased about a month ago, Knudson said, was registered to Aircraft Guaranty Corp. Trustee, a Texas firm. An Aircraft Guaranty representative, who gave her name as Donna, refused to comment on the plane’s registration. “Do not call back,” she said before hanging up.
The fiery crash startled residents but missed homes and businesses in the densely packed residential neighborhoods that surround Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.
“You saw the bright orange and then it was smoke everywhere. After the fireball we couldn’t even see the field because it was smoke all over,” Bavon Sylvain told Miami Herald news partner CBS4.
Sylvain, 28, was running track on the nearby Calvary Christian Academy campus when the accident happened and raced to record video on his phone of the rising smoke cloud.
Elyssa Service, 22, a flight attendant, saw the crash while she was playing Ultimate Frisbee nearby and raced over with a handful of people to try and offer aid.
“The smoke was too big,” she said. “By the time that we had gotten there it was engulfed from the inside out.”
The NTSB is expected to release a preliminary report in about week, as is customary, but the initial report will provide minimal information, such as the purpose of the flight and how the wreckage was found.
The paperwork won’t pinpoint the cause of the accident. Detailed information will appear on a final report, which will take more than a year.
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