After personnel from several state, local and federal agencies helped locate the wreckage of a plane that crashed in northern Flagler County late Thursday night, federal authorities have taken over investigation of the crash that is said to have killed all on board.
The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating the incident, Flagler County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chief Mark Strobridge told The Record on Friday afternoon.
Just hours earlier, shortly before noon, a news helicopter crew from WESH in Orlando spotted the wreckage in the town of Marineland, Strobridge said.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office started searching for the plane around 11 p.m. Thursday after at least one witness reported hearing a plane’s engine sputtering.
By daybreak, personnel from the sheriff’s offices of neighboring counties, the United States Coast Guard, at least two fire departments, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office were searching the area by boat, helicopter and on land.
Strobridge called it a “massive effort.”
Once authorities were able to get to the wreck, he said, it became apparent that there were no survivors, but as of Friday afternoon the identities of those on board still had not been released.
“We don’t know how many occupants are in the plane still,” Strobridge said, adding that the fuselage was upside down and “pancaked into the ground.”
“It’s very unfortunate,” he said.
At an afternoon news conference, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly said he had been to the wreck site and it appears that the aircraft clipped a tree and flipped over.
“It is a very tragic ending to a search. You always hope you can find people alive. There is no indication we will find survivors,” Staly said. “… I can see one [body]. It is a very crumpled aircraft, and by how it’s lying, you can’t see into the fuselage.”
The FAA said that it lost contact with the Piper PA44 aircraft approximately 22 miles north of Ormond Beach.
The plane was being operated by Sunrise Flight Academy in Ormond Beach, and its training director confirmed a student from Saudi Arabia and an instructor are both missing, according to Record news partner First Coast News.
Strobridge said authorities know that the plane last took off from Brunswick, Georgia, and was likely returning to Ormond Beach when it went down.
Florida Times-Union reporter Dan Scanlan contributed to this report.