Miami-Dade County

‘We can’t live with ourselves’: Miami flight school shuts down after fatal midair crash

Searchers recover 4th victim from midair crash over Everglades

Investigators continued their search for clues Wednesday into a midair collision of two small planes over the Everglades that left three known dead Tuesday. Police found a fourth victim the next morning.
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Investigators continued their search for clues Wednesday into a midair collision of two small planes over the Everglades that left three known dead Tuesday. Police found a fourth victim the next morning.

Dean International — the Miami-Dade flight school that owns the planes involved in last week’s deadly midair crash over the Everglades — has shut down, company officials confirmed Monday.

Staff broke the news to students following a brief memorial at the Kendall flight school for the four people killed: Jorge Sanchez, 22; Ralph Knight, 72; Nisha Sejwal, 19; and Carlo Zanetti Scarpati, 22.

“We can’t live with ourselves; the crash devastated us,” Robert Dean, the flight school’s owner told the Miami Herald Monday afternoon. “We had already planned to downsize because the embassies have stopped giving visas to students, but this was the final straw. It’s the right thing to do.”

Robert Dean hugs a student before leaving the Dean International flight school on Monday, July 23, 2018. Dean announced that the school is closing down after two of its planes collided over the Everglades last week, killing four people. Monique O. Madan Miami Herald Staff

Dean International, which operates out of Miami Executive Airport, 2800 SW 145th Ave., is home to about 200 students from nearly 100 countries. The majority of the school’s students come from Saudi Arabia, India and Latin America.

As Dean spoke to the Miami Herald in the airport’s parking lot, dozens of students, who had stood for hours outside the school’s airport office demanding a tuition refund, gathered around.

“We already hired a separate company that will come and assess our assets so we can liquidate them and pay students back,” Dean said. “The crash had nothing to do with maintenance, but rather human error. It was a freak accident, that’s what it was. Like one in a hundred billion.”

In the afternoon of July 17, a Piper PA-34 and a Cessna 172 — which had both departed from Miami Executive Airport — somehow crashed in the sky and plummeted into the Everglades, nine miles west of where they took off. After a frantic search, Miami-Dade police and fire rescue recovered the four bodies.

Police said Knight was a subcontracted inspector who worked for the FAA and that Sejwal was on a routine flight check to maintain her certification. Sanchez was a certified flight instructor at Dean. Information on Scarpati was not immediately available. Police believe Scarpati was flying with Sanchez and that Knight and Sejwal were in the other plane.

Dean told the Miami Herald one of the victims, Nisha Sejwal, had taken an aircraft out that same morning with the same examiner.

“They went back up in the air later on and everything was working fine — and then nine minutes into the flight, they collided,” Dean said.

Records show the school’s planes were involved in five accidents from 2007-2017, resulting in two fatalities. FAA records revealed that the flight school had 26 FAA accident/incident reports — more than two per year — since 2007.

The federal National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating this recent crash.

Days after the crash, the flight school’s website was hijacked by hackers.

“You have killed too many students,” the site said in large capital letters.

The Miami Herald spoke to dozens of students who asked not to be named because of their immigration status. They said they also feared retribution on behalf of the flight school for discussing matters with the media.

“Everything is up in the air for us. No pun intended,” one student said. “If we don’t get our money back — the average tuition is $37,000, — we won’t be able to transfer to another flight school. Chances are our visas won’t be renewed under the Trump administration and we will leave with no pilot’s license and our money wasted for nothing.“

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Students wait outside Dean International, the Miami-Dade flight school at Miami Executive Airport whose two planes collided in midair last week, killing four people. The owner of the school said Monday they will be closing, and the students are worried about getting their tuition refunded. Monique O. Madan Miami Herald Staff

Other students told the Herald that specific plans on how Dean International will disburse any owed funds have been “very vague.”

“We’ve been given no specifics. All they say is ‘give us time,’ “ one student said. “We’re just scared the company will declare bankruptcy and flee.”

Dean quickly tried to ease students’ concerns: “When I’m underground and dead, that’s the only time you’ll have a problem getting in touch with me,” he told a student pilot in uniform, then gave him a hug.

“We’re just confused, stunned, sad,” said Ibrahem Khenkar, 20.

Monique O. Madan, @MoniqueOMadan, 305-376-2108

Video provided by WPLG shows the crash scene from a midair collision that happened nine miles west of Miami Executive Airport, 14150 SW 129th St., and involved a Piper PA-34 and a Cessna 172.