Palmetto Bay

Decades after woman jumped from a plane, skeletal remains may solve her disappearance

Landscapers discovered adult skeletal human remains alongside a wooded Palmetto Bay nature trail on June 26.
Landscapers discovered adult skeletal human remains alongside a wooded Palmetto Bay nature trail on June 26. Palmetto Bay Leadership Thru Transparency

For more than two decades, mystery has surrounded the disappearance of Christine Pascale, a troubled one-time pilot who hurled herself, without a parachute, from a small plane in an apparent suicide attempt over South Miami-Dade.

Investigators never found her body.

But Pascale’s relatives got a spark of hope last week when workers discovered skeletal remains hidden in the brush of a 22-acre nature preserve next to the Palmetto Bay Village Center on Old Cutler Road.

It might take months for forensic anthropologists to identify the skeletal remains, which were found in pieces as workers cleared out invasive plants. The bones may be too old to yield DNA for testing. But Miami-Dade homicide detectives and the medical examiner’s office are exploring the possibility that Pascale’s body might have finally surfaced.

“I’m just hoping that it is her. I always wonder where she is. Even if it’s a fatality, that is still my sister’s body. I want her to have a nicer resting place,” said her sister, Michelle Pascale Venega, who spoke to a detective on Monday.

“I know it’s been some years, but I always think about what happened.”

I’m just hoping that it is her. … Even if it’s a fatality, that is still my sister’s body. I want her to have a nicer resting place.

Michelle Pascale Venega

The 26-year-old Pascale leaped to her presumed death from a Cessna on Dec. 3, 1994.

That day, Pascale hired a plane ride at the Opa-locka airport, directing the pilot to fly over Southwest 184th Street and Old Cutler Road, close to where her parents lived. Pascale told the pilot she wanted to take some aerial photographs.

Pascale jumped when the plane reached 5,000 feet, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report.

“I noticed her reaching for something on the rear seat. I assumed it was a camera … A little while later, I heard what sounded like a yell and felt wind in the cabin and noise simultaneously,” pilot Hodelin F. Rene told federal investigators at the time.

“I immediately turned toward the sound and she was already partly out of the airplane, and when our eyes met, she jumped out.”

When our eyes met, she jumped out.

Hodelin F. Rene, pilot

Pascale’s body would have plummeted at 120 miles an hour, with the young woman conscious during the free fall. It would have taken her about 15 seconds to hit the dirt or the mangroves of Biscayne Bay, experts told the Miami Herald in 1994.

Venega says she still believes her older sister “fell off” the plane.

“She was taking aerial shots and supposedly the door opened; they said it was suicide, but I don’t think it was,” Venega said. “I don’t think she was depressed. All we know is the Cessna called it in that he lost control of the plane when the door opened.”

Just days before she fell to her death, Pascale had tried jumping out of another aircraft flying over South Miami-Dade, in the vicinity of the former Burger King headquarters, a National Transportation Safety Board report says. She was unsuccessful.

Pascale’s short life was marred by mental-health problems.

Records show that the would-be pilot began “as a sickly child and grew into a disruptive and violent-tempered adult, living in failure and fantasy, yelling curses and threats, arrested often for disorderly conduct and occasionally for worse things,” the Herald reported in 1994.

Pascale pretended to be a jet pilot and aviation business woman, but her license only qualified her to fly a single-engine propeller-driven plane.

The Federal Aviation Administration later revoked it because Pascale lied about her medical history. Since childhood, she had lived on one kidney, and the FAA believed she was schizophrenic, dishonest, compulsive and dangerous.

Since there is no closure, my mom in her head thinks she is alive, and I know that’s her way of just coping with it.

Michelle Pascale Venega

Pascale’s home life in east Perrine was marked by domestic disputes and a tortured relationship with her father. Police records listed arrests for disorderly conduct, bouncing checks, cheating landlords and two felonies — sticking a man with a knife and fork and forging prescriptions for tranquilizers and painkillers. Pascale even went to jail for punching her younger sister.

“The worst call was from the FAA, telling us that Christine made a report of a missing plane that our son was on and the plane crashed. We told them that we don’t have a son and Christine is a very sick girl,” her father told the Herald back then. “They asked us if she lied a lot, and we said she is a constant liar.”

Venega hopes the remains are indeed her sister.

“Since there is no closure, my mom in her head thinks she is alive, and I know that’s her way of just coping with it. She thinks she had a parachute on and survived and just ran away,” Venega said. “I know it doesn’t make sense at all, but maybe just finding her will bring closure.”

Anyone with information on the 1994 death of Christine Pascale can contact Miami-Dade’s homicide bureau at 305-471-2400.

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

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