Bodies of missing passengers from USVI crash found
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Recovery crews removed the bodies of the two missing passengers from the downed Piper Aztec airplane on Sunday morning. (File photo)
Recovery crews removed the bodies of the two missing passengers from the downed Piper Aztec airplane on Sunday morning after the aircraft, which was located on Saturday afternoon, was raised from the waters near the Cyril E. King Airport.
The plane, which crashed a little over five miles short of King Airport on the morning of October 13, was located in about 100 feet of water. It was later towed to the waters just north of the King Airport and secured overnight. Around 11:30 p.m. last night recovery crews led by the Department of Planning and Natural Resources suspended the effort to remove what was then reported to be the body of one passenger due to lighting limitations and safety concerns. The effort resumed at sunrise today and once a crane lifted the wreckage, it became visible that there were two bodies inside the aircraft.
Dive crews were able to strap the aircraft and it was lifted from the waters onto a platform truck on the northwestern end of King Airport. Staff from the Medical Examiner’s Office, VIPD Forensics Unit and DPNR enforcement officers removed the bodies of both a male and female passenger.
The missing passengers were Darwin Carr and Rachel Hamilton. There were no signs of the missing pilot, Kirby Hodge. Late Sunday morning, government officials notified the families of Rachel Hamilton and Darwin Carr that the aircraft had been found, that the two bodies had been recovered and that in all likelihood, the bodies were those of Hamilton and Carr. An autopsy scheduled for early next week will confirm the identities and determine the cause of death.
On Thursday evening, government responders obtained the last recorded radar position of the aircraft from federal authorities which allowed the mission to be refocused to a specific area.
On Saturday afternoon at about 1 p.m. an oil sheen was discovered on the ocean surface and dive crews entered the water at that location in search for the missing aircraft.
Divers went into about 100 feet of water and spotted the aircraft lying on its roof with one wing separated but the fuselage generally intact. Divers also spotted one body in the aircraft.
About four hours later, using an inflatable air bag device, the fuselage was floated. Divers secured the plane’s openings and began the slow process of towing the aircraft to St. Thomas to facilitate removal of the body and securing the aircraft for a subsequent investigation into the cause of the crash.
Both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have been notified that the aircraft was located. Federal officials are expected on island shortly to begin the process of determining the cause of the crash.
Pilot Hodge and three passengers took off from St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen airport at about 4:40 a.m. on the morning of October 13 destined for St. Thomas. Hodge’s last radio contact to the FAA control tower on St. Thomas came when he was about eight miles out from the King Airport. Hodge’s plane fell off radar shortly thereafter at 4:57 a.m.