When a small Cessna 172 airplane crash-landed in Key Biscayne after its engine reportedly lost power late Thursday night, the forced landing broke one pilot’s nose and snapped the strut supporting the plane’s right wing. As the plane careened along Crandon Boulevard as its impromptu runway, it crashed into a light pole and then a tree, police said.
But both men on that flight — a flight instructor and his student — survived the crash. It was the second in as many weeks linked to Dean International Flight School in Miami, after a plane crash in the Everglades killed another student pilot from the school earlier this month.
Both accidents follow a checkered history for the flight school, which has had more than two dozen prior incidents or accidents logged with the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board in the last 10 years, records show.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue spokesman Jorge Lafarga said officers were alerted to the Key Biscayne crash around 11:20 p.m. Thursday, and that Key Biscayne police and Miami-Dade police helped respond at the scene. The two men in the plane had only minor injuries, and one was taken to the hospital, police said.
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The aircraft had taken off from Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach and was headed for Miami Executive Airport before it was forced to land, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said in an email.
NTSB investigator Tim Monville said the damage to the small plane was extensive enough to classify it as an accident, but that an investigation was just beginning. The FAA is also investigating the crash, Bergen said.
Though the plane was registered to C&G Aircraft Parts Inc., the tail of the plane bore Dean International’s name, partially masked with white tape. The address on FAA record for C&G Aircraft Parts Inc. is the same as the address for Air Christian Inc., the registered owner of another plane linked to Dean International that crashed in early July.
That plane, a Cessna 152 single-engine craft, disappeared July 1 after a student pilot with Dean International took off alone from Miami Executive Airport that evening, police said. The school’s owner, Robert Dean, reported the craft missing to the FAA the following Wednesday, four days later. The plane’s wreckage was spotted in the Everglades about seven miles west of Homestead later that night after an alert for the craft was sent out.
When rescue crews finally made it through the swampy landscape to recover that plane, they found a craft that had been functionally destroyed, Monville said. “The cockpit was fragmented, both wings were heavily damaged, the tail was broken off, but attached by cables.”
The pilot, whom news outlets later identified as Mark Ukaere, had been studying for an advanced certification at Dean International, according to roommates. He had been licensed to fly the craft but violated a flight school policy forbidding flying alone, Dean told Local 10.
Ukaere wasn’t the first pilot fatality in Dean International’s history. FAA records showed the school had more than two dozen prior accidents or incidents in the last 10 years, including a fatality in 2014 when a student pilot crashed into the water off Elliott Key and died. Two were injured in 2007 when a plane trying to make an emergency landing crashed into power lines and landed upside-down.
The FAA took action more than half a dozen times, issuing warning notices and fines to the school, records showed. The reports cited multiple issues in those cases, including failed pre-flight inspections and insufficient maintenance of fuel and oil fluid levels.
A preliminary report on the plane that crashed in the Everglades is still pending, but Monville said that initial tests of the emergency locator transmitter had showed it did not send out a signal.
Dean, the flight school’s owner, did not return calls for comment Friday. He defended his school’s flying record to NBC6, which previously reported on the flight school’s history, though he acknowledged that his school’s history of accidents was higher than average.
“If you’re operating an operation like this, 50 aircraft, 60,000 miles per year, if you take our average and another schools’ average, we’re in a heck of a good shape,” Dean told the station.
Multiple passersby who saw the crashed plane in Key Biscayne Friday said those on board were lucky to have survived. As Downtown Towing pulled the wreckage of the plane into a street off the main boulevard on Friday afternoon, some tourists took photos and passengers in cars inching by rolled down their windows for a better look. The plane’s wings were separated from the body, and a light pole and no turns street sign were knocked over.
Leonardo Caldreron, 50, said he was thankful no one had been seriously hurt in the crash — and impressed the pilot had landed the plane given the narrowness of the road and the many trees lining it.
“I’m surprised it didn’t catch on fire,” he said. “I was trying to look for skid marks.”
Miami Herald staff writer Sydney Pereira contributed to this report.