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Salvage crews raise seaplane wreckage; investigators search for voice recorder

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Salvage crews Tuesday began raising the wreckage of a seaplane in hopes of finding out why the aircraft burst into flames and plunged into the ocean within sight of the beach. All 20 people aboard were killed.

The 1940s-era propeller-driven plane went down Monday just after takeoff from Miami for the Bahamas.

After divers searched the wreckage 35 feet underwater, a salvage crane on a barge raised a wing from the aircraft Tuesday afternoon. The rest won't be raised until today, Coast Guard spokesman Dana Warr said.

Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said raising the plane was a delicate operation because moving it too quickly could cause it to break under the weight of the water. He said most of the answers in the investigation would come from examining the wreckage.

Investigators were still trying to find the cockpit voice recorder, which might have captured any noises or the last words of the pilots. But the main portion of the recorder was in the tail, which Rosenker said was difficult to reach because the plane was mangled.

Eighteen passengers and two crew members were on the Chalk's Ocean Airways flight. At least 11 of the victims were returning home to the island of Bimini, many of them after Christmas shopping jaunts. Weeping islanders went house to house Tuesday to grieve.

The plane was a twin-engine Grumman G-73T Turbine Mallard. It previously had few major reported incidents, and no passengers or crew were injured in any of them, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"There is not one house, not one family that has been untouched by this tragedy," said Lloyd Edgecombe, a real estate agent and local government council member on Bimini, an island of 1,600 residents.

One of the victims, Sergio Danguillecourt, was a member of the board of directors of Bacardi Ltd. and a great-great-grandson of the rum distiller's co-founder, Don Facundo Bacardi, the company said.

The plane was a twin-engine Grumman G-73T Turbine Mallard. It previously had few major reported incidents, and no passengers or crew were injured in any of them, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Rosenker said NTSB investigators were at the airline's office to get maintenance and flight records. Chalk's owner Jim Confalone and general manager Roger Nair did not immediately return calls for comment.

Rosenker urged witnesses with amateur video or photographs of the crash to come forward. He said investigators were helped by accounts of the crash from tipsters and an amateur video obtained by CNN that showed the main part of the aircraft slamming into the water, followed by a flaming object that was trailing thick black smoke.


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