WELLINGTON, Fla. - Two people were killed Sunday evening when a small airplane crashed west of Boynton Beach.
The aircraft went down in rough terrain in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, a spokesperson for the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said. The cause of the crash is under investigation by federal aviation officials.
Both victims were present at the Stuart Air Show. John Painter, a manager with Air Orlando, said one of the deceased was an experienced Orlando-area pilot with more than 15 years and thousands of hours of flying documented.
The pilot, whose name has not been released, rented the single-engine Cirrus SR-22 plane a few days ago from Air Orlando, a flight school and aircraft rental company at Orlando Executive Airport. Painter said, as far as he knew, the passenger was a relative of the pilot's.
Air Orlando Manager John Painter told The Sentinel the pilot was flying to South Florida to take a helicopter training class at a local airport. He was apparently relocating the four-seat plane from one airport to another when the accident happened, Painter said, meaning this was not a training flight.
PBSO said that a distress call from a pilot in another plane was relayed to the control tower at Palm Beach International Airport at 5:46 p.m. That pilot reportedly saw the Cirrus SR-22 airplane in trouble.
The plane is registered to a company called Mann Aviation from Geneva, Florida.
Family members of the victims were at a staging area set up by officials Monday morning.
A PBSO helicopter spotted the wreckage and guided airboats from the The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Palm Beach Fire Rescue to the area.
Currently the plane sits in 7 feet of "muck" under about a foot of water, said Bill Calvert of the US Fish and Wildlife. The plane took a nosedive into the Everglades, nine miles north of the staging area.
When the plane was discovered Sunday night, Calvert said officials weren't able to recover a single thing. Eric Davis, a sheriff's office spokesperson, said the aircraft and the bodies will likely not be moved until sometime late Monday because airboats must be used to get to the wreckage.
National Transportation Safety Board investigator Dennis Diaz, who flew in from his Virginia office Monday morning, said officials cannot work the scene until a "rocket" is deemed safe. The plane was equipped with this "rocket" so that a parachute could be deployed, helping the plane glide down to the ground.
Painter said all Cirrus aircraft have this ballistic parachute recovery system that allows planes to lower to the ground without damage to plane or its occupants.
Diaz said investigators are trying to determine if the parachute or rocket was deployed.