Investigators started Tuesday to piece together what caused a small airplane to crash into a residential neighborhood in Pompano Beach on Monday. All three aboard survived the crash, although they’re contending with second-degree burns.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office identified those on the airplane as pilot Geoffrey White, a 40-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident; co-pilot Fernando Diaz, 25, of Peru; and Sylvia Mena, 23, of Ecuador. Both Mena and Diaz are flight students.
All three were conscious but suffering from skin burns after the crash. They were taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where they remain. No information on the men was available from Jackson, although Mena was listed in critical condition. (The woman signed herself in at Jackson as Silvia Coello.)
The victims had “mostly second-degree burns ranging from 30 to 40 percent of their body,” Pompano Beach Fire Chief John Jurgle said Tuesday.
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The single-engine prop plane crashed into a home shortly after takeoff from Pompano Beach Airpark around 3 p.m. Monday.
Warren Beck said he was driving near a friend’s home when he saw the plane go down. Beck drove to the scene and jumped out to assist the victims, moving them from the backyard to the front yard.
“I’m probably 20 feet from the plane and I hear, ‘We are over here,’ ” said Beck, as he recounted what happened Tuesday at the scene. “I look through the bushes and all three of them are standing in the yard in the back right next to the engine. … I grabbed the co-pilot and held him all the way to the front. The co-pilot kept asking me how is my face? I said, ‘Sir, you are alive. Everything is OK.’ I said, ‘Can you lie down?’ He said, ‘No, my face.’ I laid him down on the ground on my blanket.”
Beck said his friend Ryan helped the pilot walk to the front yard. (Beck said he doesn’t know Ryan’s last name.)
Then Beck said he heard another bystander, a woman, say that there was another victim: Mena. Beck said he helped her walk to the front yard.
“She just kept saying thank you,” said Beck, a tile installer from Fort Lauderdale. “In the beginning, she was shaking a little bit. When the paramedics weren’t there yet, she started just going into shock. You could see her vibrate. I told her everything was going to be OK.”
Mena said to Beck, “Please get me out of the sun.” About six inches of skin was peeling off her arms, he said.
Beck said she was able to tell him her name and said they were practicing turning on and off the engine.
Of the three victims, the pilot was in the worst condition, Beck said.
“When I went to him lying on the ground and put blankets beneath him, he was in excruciating pain,” Beck said.
All three were wearing pilot shirts, he said.
The plane belongs to the Florida Aviation Academy at the nearby Pompano Beach Airpark, according to Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS4.
On Tuesday, the academy was closed and no one answered the telephone or email. The company’s website says it first opened in 1993. The owner, John J. Fitzgerald, could not be reached Tuesday.
The Hawker Beechcraft 76 aircraft is owned by a corporation in Wyoming, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. The records show the registration expired in February.
Leah Read, a senior investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board, was at the crash scene Tuesday morning documenting the site.
The airplane went down in the 900 block of Harbor Drive/26th Avenue, a middle-class residential neighborhood of largely single-story homes on the east side of U.S. 1. The Pompano Beach Airpark is on the west side of U.S. 1.
The airplane clipped a front corner of the roof at 912 Harbor Drive, where part of a roof gutter and window shade were torn and a corner of the roof was black from the fire. The more substantial damage was in the back of the home, but that was not visible to passersby on Tuesday as authorities had cordoned off the area. No one on the ground was injured.
Rita Pizzo, who lives across street, was at home when the plane went down.
“I was having lunch with my son, and we heard a loud boom. My son looked at me and said, ‘That’s a plane crash.”
Her son Mason, 23, bolted across the street and into 912, his mom said.
“He went into a burning house,” she said. He tried but couldn’t open the back sliding door.
He rushed back home to grab a fire extinguisher. Rescuers quickly arrived, and Rita saw the three victims on the front lawns. “Had it been summer and kids were out at the pool or barbecues, it could have been really tragic,” she said.
The pilot was practicing takeoffs and landings when the accident occurred, said FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.
Neighbors told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS4 that no one was home at the time of the crash.
Miami Herald reporter Carli Teproff contributed to this article.