Miami Beach

Search suspended for captain of downed cargo plane

Robert Hopkins/Facebook

After rescuing one crew member on Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search Saturday afternoon for the captain of a downed cargo airplane, which crashed about 13 miles east of Bay Harbor Islands after departing from the Bahamas.

Captain Robert Hopkins, 68, was identified as the missing crew member Saturday evening by Conquest Air Cargo, the Miami Lakes-based company that owns the airplane. The Coast Guard searched for about 21 hours in an area of 364 square nautical miles before calling the search off.

“Our thoughts remain with the family of Captain Robert Hopkins at this difficult time,” Conquest Air Cargo said in a statement. “This is a tremendous loss for our company; Captain Hopkins’ selfless leadership was and will always remain an example for us all.”

The Coast Guard rescued one crew member from the wreckage off the coast of the Bay Harbor Islands on Friday afternoon. Dramatic helicopter rescue, captured on local TV footage, showed rescuers hoisting crew member Rolland Silva, 28, out of the water.

The 64-year-old Convair 131-B aircraft took off from Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau to Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport on Conquest Air Flight 504, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

In a statement to the Miami Herald, the company said the airplane declared an emergency and attempted a water landing when it crashed 13 miles offshore about 12:15 p.m. Television footage showed the aircraft upside down in the water and with parts detached.

The fixed-wing, multi-engine aircraft was returning from a cargo delivery in Nassau, the company said. It is certified with the FAA.

“Our concern is with our flight crew and we will continue to coordinate with the relevant authorities,” Conquest Air Cargo said.

The Coast Guard sent a rescue helicopter and a 45-foot boat to the scene. The helicopter crew transferred the rescued passenger to emergency medical services at Air Station Miami. His condition is unknown.

“Preliminary indication is that two people were on board,” the FAA said in a statement.

Conquest Air Inc., which registered to do business in Florida in 2002, is a cargo airline providing daily trips to Nassau and regular service to the Caribbean. It has an office at Lynden Pindling International Airport.

Conquest Air Cargo is a Miami Lakes-based cargo airline with offices in Nassau, Bahamas. One of its airplanes crashed off the coast of Bay Harbor Islands Friday afternoon. The Coast Guard rescued one man and suspect a second person was on board. Facebook/Conquest Air Cargo

Responding agencies include the Coast Guard, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and Miami-Dade police. Commercial salvage crews also assisted. Miami-Dade police notified the Miami Coast Guard station of a possible downed two-engine Cessna plane with two people reportedly aboard, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

Coast Guard Chief Crystal Kneen confirmed that a crew was responding to the crash site Friday afternoon.

On Saturday, when the search was halted, the Coast Guard’s Capt. Megan Dean said in a statement:

“Suspending a search is never an easy decision and a lot of factors are considered and calculated before we make that decision. We have been in regular contact with the family members throughout our search efforts and extend our sympathies for what we know is a very difficult time for them,” said Dean, commander of Coast Guard Sector Miami.

Martin Vassolo covers the politics and government of Miami Beach for the Miami Herald. He began working for the Herald in January 2018 after attending the University of Florida, where he served as the editor-in-chief of The Independent Florida Alligator. Previously, he was a general assignment reporter on the Herald’s metro desk and a political reporting intern.