Two student pilots who took off from an airport in Marathon on Tuesday morning ditched their plane off Haulover Beach after experiencing engine trouble.
They attempted to land the single-engine Piper PA 28 plane on the sand but fell short, and instead went into the Atlantic about 40 feet offshore near a rock jetty.
A portion of Haulover Beach was shut down Tuesday afternoon while authorities investigated and surveyed possible safety hazards such as a fuel leak. A Coast Guard helicopter hovered over the area.
“It’s a single-propped plane and it’s sinking right now,” a bystander told the Coast Guard just after the plane hit the water at about 11:45 a.m.
Lifeguard Marcel Lopez said he was manning a tower when he saw the northbound plane head into the ocean blue.
“The little airplane was flying low, low, low until it crashed,” he said.
Lopez ran down the stairs, grabbed his paddleboard and buoy and dove into the choppy waters.
He found the men — later identified as Juan Jose Ortiz Carrera, 20 and Fabian Ignacio Bobadilla-Ruiz, 24 — already out of the plane and swimming. As soon as the lifeguard got them on the paddleboard, the plane sank, Lopez said.
“They were really lucky,” he said. “It wasn’t a soft landing. When you hit water like that, it’s like concrete.”
Lt. Matthew Starling of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said both men — who were the only ones on board — were not injured and had “no issues whatsoever.” He said the worst of it was a few cuts.
Starling said the men, one from Ecuador and one from Chile, were “very thankful to be alive.”
Marcel Simard was sitting in a beach chair when he saw the plane flying low.
“Suddenly I heard a big noise and then we saw them swimming,” he said.
Coast Guard officials said the plane went down at Haulover Cut near 108th Street and Collins Avenue.
The plane, manufactured in 1981, is registered to Growl Inc., a company based in Brevard County. It was not clear where the men were headed or what time they took off.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.