Ricardo Barboza took off from Kendall-Tamiami Airport in an older model, but reliable Cessna at 12:40 p.m. Sunday. The Coral Gables flight enthusiast was practicing some tricky maneuvers on a rare rain-free summer afternoon, witnesses said.
But as Barboza, 52, veered the small, single-engine four-seater toward Elliott Key, just off the coast of South Miami-Dade, something went terribly wrong, according to police and boaters who witnessed the incident.
“He was circling in what looked like figure eights, but he was in a very steep bank, at about 1,500 feet. We watched him for five or 10 minutes, then stopped,” said David Stoia, another flight enthusiast who was enjoying the day with family and friends aboard an open fisherman between the Key and the mainland.
“But the noise was unmistakable — from the other side of the island you heard the motor revving loud, then impact.”
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Barboza’s Cessna 172 Skyhawk, an older, small but sturdy, aircraft, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 200 yards east of Elliott Key about three hours after takeoff. The plane ended up in about 10 feet of water.
Boater Tom Romanowski also spotted Barboza flying around Sunday afternoon, then saw his craft plunge into the water, “like a kamikaze pilot.”
“It just went straight down,” said Romanowski. “Didn’t try to pull up on the throttle. The wings didn’t flutter, nothing.”
When Miami-Dade police divers and the U.S. Coast Guard arrived by boat and sea, they found Barboza’s body still inside the plane. No one else was aboard. Police brought the body back to Black Point Marina, the nearest landing to the crash site.
A day after the crash, information was tough to come by. Police confirmed Barboza was the victim, said he lived on Riviera Drive in Coral Gables, and that an investigation into his death was ongoing. A woman answering the phone at the address where police said Barboza lived, said they were family and that Barboza’s wife was on her way to the home. She refused to answer any other questions.
A spokesman at Miami-Dade Aviation said the plane’s registration number, N737TP, shows it belongs to the Dean International flight school near Kendall-Tamiami Airport, where the plane took off. Multiple emails to the owners of the flight school were not returned. A receptionist answered the phone there but said no one was available to speak about the incident.
State records indicate the Cessna, which weighs less than 12,500 pounds and can fly at about 105 miles per hour, is owned by the Lily Aviation Corp., a company run by Ian and Lisa Dean, who run Dean International.
The National Transporation Safety Board is the lead investigator into the crash, but a spokesman said they haven’t arrived at the crash scene yet. Media reports on Monday said the plane was being transported by Sea Tow.
Without confirmation from the FAA and Dean International, Barboza’s flying qualifications were not available. Typically, to receive a license and fly alone, up to 35 hours’ flying time with an instructor must be accumulated.
A pilot doesn’t have to submit a flight log for a simple flight like Barboza’s. All he would have needed was clearance from the tower. Still, most pilots keep flight logs. Barboza’s was unavailable Monday.
The Cessna 172 Skyhawk that Barbazo was piloting has been long-considered the world’s most popular private aircraft. It has been around for 57 years. An estimated 43,000 of them are still deemed flight-worthy today.
A 2012 study done by the Air Safety Foundation said the plane has a great safety record but called it “sobering” that there remain on average about 200 accidents a year.
Small planes like the Skyhawk generally are safe as long as the plane is well-maintained and the pilot is properly trained, said Eusebio Valdes, who owns Miami Fly and has been flying for 40 years.
“Flying is safer than driving a car,” Valdes said.