Pilots in fatal Loxahatchee crash were flying in formation with friends

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Before the Cirrus SR-22 plane nose-dived into 15 feet of mud near Boynton Beach, two Bushnell cousins were flying in formation with two of their friends in other planes, according to a preliminary report released this week.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigators' report detailed the moments before the Cirrus SR-22 crashed into the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge two weeks ago killing both the pilot and passenger.

Sean McLeod, 23, and Ryan Ruano, 34, were both licensed pilots: McLeod had a private pilot's license and Ruano had a commercial pilot's license.

NTSB investigator Dennis Diaz said it is still unknown who was flying the plane at the time of the crash.

There were a few clouds at about 3,100 feet, Diaz said. At the time of the crash winds were blowing at about 9 mph and the temperature was about 75 degrees.

The cousins, who were also best friends, were returning from the Stuart Air Show and heading to the North Palm Beach County General Aviation Airport in West Palm Beach, the report said.

The cousins' plane joined in formation with two of the pilot's friends, who were flying a Sukhoi Su-29 and a Extra EA-300.

Shortly after the flight crossed the northern border of the wildlife refuge, the pilot of the Su-29, who was not identified in the report, saw the SR-22 "smoothly increased" upward to about a 30 degree angle.

The plane then rolled to the left and pitched nose down. As the plane descended, it rolled right. The plane then nose-dived into the wildlife refuge at approximately an 80 degree angle, the report said.

The plane's cockpit was submerged in about a foot of water and about 15 feet of mud, the report said.

The pilot of the Su-29 contacted air traffic control.

The cousins' bodies were recovered from the plane two days after the crash.

Investigators were able to recover flight control surfaces, the tail assembly, portions of both wings and portions of the fuselage, the report said.

The plane was operated and managed by Air Orlando, a flight school based at Orlando Executive Airport. John Painter, the manager of Air Orlando, previously told The Palm Beach Post that Ruano worked at the company for the past nine months and that McLeod was a student there.

The plane had a whole-airframe ballistic recovery parachute system, said Diaz.

In the event of an emergency, the rocket motor shoots the parachute out when a handle is pulled.

The rocket motor ignited and the bag holding the parachute was found outside of the plane, Diaz said. Investigators are still trying to determine if one of the cousins pulled the handle to activate the parachute.

"The rocket motor fired but as to intent, I can't speak to intent," Diaz said. "The parachute was still packed inside its bag."

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