Miami-Dade County

Victims of Southwest Miami-Dade plane crash were Venezuelan; probe begins

Remnants of Wednesday’s plane crash in Southwest Miami-Dade County were still visible Thursday morning, Feb. 12, 2015.
Remnants of Wednesday’s plane crash in Southwest Miami-Dade County were still visible Thursday morning, Feb. 12, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The twin-engine airplane that crashed Wednesday in Southwest Miami-Dade County, killing all four people aboard, belonged to the Venezuelan unit of Brink’s security firm, a company spokesman told the Miami Herald.

Ed Cunningham said the plane left Venezuela late Sunday and was being serviced for routine maintenance in Miami. The plane departed from Miami Executive Airport, formerly Tamiami Airport, 12800 SW 145th Ave., Wednesday afternoon and crashed into a field around 2:45 p.m. about two miles southwest of the airport. Cunningham identified the pilot as Raul Chirivella, a 25-year employee of Servicio Pan Americano de Protección in Venezuela.

He said he was the only employee aboard.

“It’s a shock to all of us,” he said. “We certainly send our sympathies to his family, and the family of the others.”

Company officials reached in Caracas, however, said all four passengers worked for the security firm. They identified the other three individuals as: co-pilot Roberto Cavaniel and passengers Juan Carlos Betancourt and Francisco DiMarco. The officials did not want to be identified.

The Venezuelan-registered aircraft, YV1674, was routinely used to transport valuables around the country, company officials said. The aircraft was en route to Providenciales International Airport in the Turks and Caicos Islands before it crashed, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Aviation sources said it was going to refuel in the British dependent territory before flying on to Venezuela.

“We are in the logistics business where we transport securities and bank notes all over the world,” said Cunningham. “It’s routine for us to have these planes serviced in Miami.”

Cunningham said as far as he knew there was nothing out of the ordinary about the plane, which could carry up to 19 passengers.

On Thursday, an investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board said the investigation into what caused the Beechcraft 1900 to crash near the intersection of Krome Avenue (Southwest 177th Avenue) and Southwest 144th Street could take six months or longer.

“Primary goal is documenting the wreckage before we move it,” Bob Gretz, a senior air safety investigator with the NTSB who flew in from New Jersey, told reporters at a news conference at the crash site.

Gretz said he had heard the pilot of the twin turbo prop reported an engine problem before crash landing, and he has requested audio from the plane to confirm.

Witnesses, he said, reported the plane was “low and banking.”

A number of factors could have contributed to the crash. Some aviation experts have speculated that the plane could have been overloaded. A family friend, Macario Chirinos, told NBC 6 that Chirivella was looking for plane parts to take back to Venezuela.

“It wasn’t a flight that was carrying an abnormal payload,” Cunningham said.

Gretz said the plane as well as its engines, Chirivella’s flying history and the environment when the crash occurred will be examined. Investigators will also look at recent radar and maintenance reports. A probable cause won’t be issued until about nine or 10 months from now, but a preliminary report could be available in about 10 days, he added.

At the crash site, workers were still trying to clean up the damage Thursday morning and the smell of fuel still filled the air. The plane was carrying 500 gallons of fuel, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said.

A Florida Power & Light truck on Krome Avenue was trying to repair the power lines that the plane took down when it crashed. About 500 people lost power after the crash. A portion of the electrical pole hung in mid-air, its base gone, dangling in the slight breeze. A few hundred feet away, part of the fuselage was in tatters.

The body of the plane, sliced in half and not far from a private home, was filled with charred debris and twisted metal. Remarkably, that section of the plane came to rest between a string of Poinciana trees that weren’t damaged.

Employees at Reliance Aviation at Miami Executive Airport, which had fueled the plane before takeoff, declined to talk about the crash on Thursday.

Ramón García, a 55-year-old pilot and instructor in Caracas, said both Chirivella and Cavaniel were very experienced airmen with decades of service under their belts.

“They were excellent people and excellent pilots,” he said. “The whole aviation community is in shock.”

Chirivella was the lead pilot at the Pan Americano company and Cavaniel had been an instructor and passenger pilot before joining the organization, García said.

“The reason they were the ones [in Florida] to pick up the airplane was precisely because they had so many years of experience,” García said. He said Cavaniel had been his instructor about a decade ago when he took a job with AeroTuy, which runs small passenger planes to tourism hotspots.

Considering their years of experience, he said it was hard to imagine that pilot error might be involved.

“If you ask me it was a mechanical failure,” he said. “They knew that airplane inside and out.”

García did not know the other two victims, but thought one of them might have been a mechanic.

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