Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Saturday, October 13, 2012 in Charlotte Amalie, VI
Aircraft: PIPER PA-23-250, registration: N5553Y
Injuries: 3 Fatal,1 Serious.
This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
On October 13, 2012, about 0458 Atlantic standard time, a Piper PA-23-250, N5553Y, was substantially damaged during a collision with water in cruise flight near Charlotte Amalie, United States Virgin Islands (U.S.V.I.). The certificated airline transport pilot and two passengers were lost, and presumed fatally injured. One passenger survived the accident, and was found at sea with serious injuries. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the cargo flight operated by Rainbow International Airlines under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135. The flight departed Henry E. Rohlsen Airport (TISX), Christiansted, U.S.V.I. about 0445 and was destined for Cyril E. King Airport (TIST), Charlotte Amalie, U.S.V.I.
Preliminary radar data revealed that the target identified as the accident airplane climbed to 1,700 feet after departure from TISX, where it leveled in cruise flight on a 330 degree heading for about 2 minutes. The airplane then entered a steady descent on the same approximate heading for the next 10 minutes until it leveled at 200 feet. The airplane cruised at 200 feet for the final 18 seconds of the flight until the radar target disappeared, approximately 5 miles from the destination airport.
The surviving passenger was interviewed by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). She stated that she was acquainted with the pilot and had flown with him on this flight "many" times before. During the en route portion, the airplane flew progressively lower to "get under the weather." The passenger stated that she could see lights on the shore near the destination airport, and could see that it was raining. She recalled light turbulence, and observed the pilot as he made his "usual" radio call. She next remembered the airplane "hitting a wall" and "seeing a flash" before the airplane filled with water. She said the pilot broke the window on his side of the airplane, and that she and the pilot egressed through it. She did not see any of the occupants of the airplane after that. When asked if she noticed anything unusual with the flight, or if the pilot provided any warning before striking the water, she said no, and indicated that everything was "normal."
The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with multiple type ratings. His most recent first class medical certificate was issued June 1, 2012. He reported 18,000 total hours of flight experience on that date.
The airplane was manufactured in 1963, and its most recent 100-hour inspection was completed on September 12, 2012, at 6,576 total aircraft hours.
The airplane was recovered on October 20, 2012 and examination of the wreckage was scheduled for a later date.
At 0453, the weather reported at TIST included few clouds at 3,300, a broken ceiling at 4,600 with light rain. The winds were from 070 degrees at 9 knots gusting to 15 knots. According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, the moon was in the eastern sky, 9 degrees above the horizon, with 5 percent of the moon's visible disc illuminated.
ST. CROIX - What began as a search and rescue mission more than a week ago, ended Saturday when search and recovery crew members located the Piper Aztec aircraft that crashed Oct. 13 in waters south of St. Thomas.
Sunday morning crews were brought in to remove the bodies of Rachel Hamilton and attorney Darwin Carr from the plane that had crashed just before sunrise with Hamilton, Carr, pilot Kirby Hodge and Valerie Jackson Thompson on board.
Hodge remains unaccounted for and Thompson, who was rescued hours after the crash, remains in stable condition at Schneider Hospital.
Government House spokesman Jean Greaux Jr. said that the aircraft was located on the ocean floor, five miles southwest of the King Airport runway, a little more than one mile northeast of where the plane disappeared from the radar screen a week before.
Greaux said DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes made the official calls to notify the families that the two passengers were confirmed dead and the medical examiner will be contacting them to do the official identification of the bodies before an autopsy is conducted later this week.
Family and friends continued to grieve on Sunday, and Hamilton's mother, Ramona Hamilton, said finding the bodies brings a sense of closure for them.
No information has been made available as yet about funeral or memorial services.
Thompson continues to recover at Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas, where families say she continues to be under close observation by her doctors and has been recovering slowly. She initially had been expected to be released after a few days last week, but took a turn for the worse, and is now also struggling after confirmation that her cousin, Hamilton, has been confirmed dead, according to Thompson's father, Valencio Jackson.
Despite Hodge still being missing, Greaux said the recovery mission has been officially suspended, but some consideration has been given by members of his family and the aviation community to do a few more independent missions, including sweeps of the many cays around the island in hopes that his body may have washed up in recent days.
Greaux said that situations such as this do not happen often and there is much to learn for all of the parties involved.
He said an official debriefing meeting will be held later this week that will include the government agencies, private entities and all of the volunteers who were a part of the search, rescue and recovery efforts.
"Through this, we found Capt. Cleo Hodge and the pilots of Ace Flight Center as very valuable resources," he said. "They provided essential information about the how, where, when and what, when it came to the flight information."
Saturday afternoon about 1 p.m. an area of oil sheen was discovered on the ocean's surface, and dive crews entered the water at that location in search for the missing aircraft, according to Greaux. Divers went into more than 100 feet of water and spotted the aircraft.
The aircraft was resting on its roof with one wing-tip separated and the other wing bent under the body of the aircraft; the engines were not separated from the wing.
Though scraped and dented, the fuselage, otherwise, was generally intact.
About four hours after the plane was located, the fuselage was floated and towed by Sea Tow Inc., using an inflatable air bag device. Divers secured the plane's openings and began the slow process of towing the aircraft to St. Thomas to facilitate removal of the bodies and securing the aircraft for investigations into the cause of the crash.
Greaux said recovery crews, including a number of local government agencies, a salvage company and a number of private boat operators had been involved in the search missions.
"At sunrise Sunday, the multi-agency team pulled the craft into a small jetty area and raised it more out of the water near UVI's marine center," Greaux said. "We removed the bodies at that time, and then proceeded to take the plane out of the water."
Neither of the two passengers had been fastened in their seats when they were found, Greaux said.
According to Greaux, a crane had been positioned from Saturday night and was used to lift the aircraft from the water and onto a waiting platform truck where it will remain for processing by the local and federal agencies handling the parallel ongoing investigations.
Eric Weiss, spokesman with the Transportation Security Administration Board, and Ronald Herwig, speaking on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration both have said that their agencies have launched investigations into the crash and will be deploying on-site investigation to the territory once the plane was located.
Greaux said Sunday the agencies are expected to have men on the ground as early as today.
A Coast Guard helicopter had located Thompson in the water around 2 p.m. - nine hours after the crash - and vectored in a marine unit from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to rescue her.
Thompson had been swimming and struggling to stay afloat in the water without out a life vest, according to her statement to authorities.
She said the flight from St. Croix to St. Thomas had appeared to be a normal one with just minor turbulence along the way until she felt the aircraft hit the sea.
She said she felt water rushing into the plane and someone held her and pushed her out of the plane and into the cold dark Caribbean Sea, but she did not believe that the others aboard the plane were able to make it out, because the plane was sinking fast and she never saw anyone again.
Hodge had delivered a shipment of The Daily News newspapers to St. Croix and was returning to St. Thomas about 4:40 a.m. with a shipment of St. Croix Avis newspapers and the three passengers when the plane went down. Searchers found a bundle of The St. Croix Avis newspapers about 3 miles west of Buck Island off St. Thomas the next day.
Hodge is the only occupant of the plane still unaccounted for as of early today.
Greaux said Friday night the search crews had initially been using plotted paths based on Hodge's most probable flight path and the fact that Hodge was located eight miles away from the airport when he last made contact with the St. Thomas tower. Greaux said searchers later received information from the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Florida that gave a more specific location of where the aircraft was when it disappeared from the radar before the crash.
Hodge's plane fell off radar shortly thereafter at 4:57 a.m., more than 17 minutes into the 20 minute flight.
The U.S. Coast Guard led the rescue mission until they suspended the search and pulled their resources after three days. The mission of the remaining crews then shifted to that of recovery and was led by DPNR with the ultimate objective being to locate the aircraft and recover the missing passengers.
Greaux said the private and public multi-agency recovery team has also included: VITEMA; the Office of the Governor; St. Thomas Rescue; the V.I. Port Authority; and Sea Tow Inc. On Saturday, the Medical Examiner's Office and the V.I. Police Department's Forensics Unit joined the recovery efforts which were completed Sunday afternoon.
A crane lifting the plane from the waters adjacent to Cyril E King airport.
Photo credit: The St. Thomas
Source and Government House
The aircraft in water.
Photo Credit: The St. Thomas
Source and Government House
The St. Thomas Source is reporting that a crane lifted the bodies of Rachel Hamilton and Darwin Carr from waters adjacent to Cyril E. King Airport runway today (October 21).
Earlier reports indicated that the plane was spotted yesterday with one body aboard. However, when the aircraft was fully removed from the waters a second body also emerged.
Pilot Kirby Hodge is still missing.
The lone survivor, Valerie Jackson Thompson, was pulled from the water about nine hours after the plane crashed on October 13 during one of its usual newspaper delivery trips between St. Croix and St. Thomas.
On Thursday, the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Team in Florida provided local authorities with radar coordinates that were very instrumental in locating the plane early yesterday afternoon.
A search team found the aircraft after spotting oil sheen on the water relatively close to where the crash took place.
According to the St. Thomas Source, “the aircraft was lying on its roof with one wing separated but the fuselage generally intact”.
It took the search team several hours to remove the plane using an inflatable air-bag device as well as the crane.
IDENTIFICATION Regis#: 5553Y Make/Model: PA23 Description: PA-23-150/160 Apache Date: 10/15/2012 Time: 1200 Event Type: Incident Highest Injury: None Mid Air: N Missing: N Damage: Unknown LOCATION City: ST CROIX State: Country: US DESCRIPTION AIRCRAFT REPORTED MISSING NEAR ST. CROIX, VI INJURY DATA Total Fatal: 0 # Crew: 0 Fat: 0 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk: 1 # Pass: 0 Fat: 0 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk: # Grnd: Fat: 0 Ser: 0 Min: 0 Unk: OTHER DATA Activity: Unknown Phase: Unknown Operation: OTHER FAA FSDO: SOUTH FLORIDA, FL (SO19) Entry date: 10/18/2012
Philipsburg:--- Relatives of Anguillian Pilot Kirby Hodge and the passengers that were on board flight 5553Y-AZTEX are upset with the conflicting information they are being fed regarding the survival and search and rescue mission.
Saturday evening relatives of Captain Hodge and other Anguillians were rejoicing when they were told that all six persons on board the aircraft were found alive.
Hours later their joy turned into sadness when they learnt that the search and rescue mission was called off due to the inclement weather conditions and that only one female passenger that was on board flight 5553Y–AZTEX that left St. Croix en route to St. Thomas early Saturday morning crashed was rescued.
The female survivor told rescue workers that all six of the passengers including her child exited the aircraft alive but they all got separated due to the bad weather conditions and high waves.
Information from San Juan Towers now states that the search and rescue was called off because of inclement weather and darkness of the night.
Earlier on Saturday afternoon, SMN News received information from the Towers at PJIAE which stated that they were informed that all the passengers were found in a raft drifting while the pilot swam to a nearby key. SMN News also received the same information from the Towers in Martinique.
Late Saturday evening SMN News was told that the information they received remained the same. However, information from St. Croix Airport states that only one female passenger was rescued and up to press time the other five passengers were not located including well known Pilot Kirby Hodge.
The passenger that was rescued SMN News learnt was taken to St. Croix while scores of family members of the victims and the pilot gathered at a beach in St. Thomas to see if the Coast Guard was going to show up with their loved ones.
Kirby Hodge is a well known pilot and businessman from Island Harbour Anguilla. He owns Rainbow International Airlines which is responsible for air evacuation within the region.
This latest crash came just one week after an aircraft crashed on the V.C. Bird International Airport in Antigua where three persons including the pilot lost their lives.
Story and comments: http://smn-news.com
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – AN Anguillan pilot and five passengers who were earlier today (Oct. 13) involved in a plane crash and reported missing were found alive.
According to the St. Maarten News Network’s website the plane’s captain, Kirby Hodge, and passengers were found alive by rescue workers in St. Croix.
Sources close to Hodge’s family in Anguilla suggest that the five passengers were found drifting in a raft that was prepared for them by Hodge while he swam to a nearby key.
Reports circulated that Captain Hodge, who owns Rainbow International Airlines, and his passengers may have disappeared after taking off from St. Croix sometime after 6:00 a.m.
Hodge is a popular Anguillan pilot and well known entrepreneur, who is responsible for air evacuation within the region and delivering newspapers to the island of St. Croix from St. Thomas, was returning back to St. Thomas from St. Croix after picking up several passengers.
This morning, Air Towers in San Juan Puerto Rico contacted St. Maarten and Martinique to inquire if the flight manned by Captain Hodge had landed at any of the two airports.
Shortly after rescue workers were dispatched in search of the aircraft.
It was later understood that the wreckage of the aircraft was found but none of the passengers were located.
Many family members and friends who prayed for Hodge and his passengers’ safe return rejoiced at the good news that they were all alive.
This is the second plane to have crashed in the region over a seven-day period.
On Monday (Oct. 8), Montserrat was in mourning following a crash of the national airline in Antigua late Sunday afternoon.
Reports stated that shortly after 4:00 p.m. October 7, a British Norman Islander nine-seat aircraft operated by Fly Montserrat had crashed shortly after takeoff from the V.C. Bird International Airport.
There were three passengers on board along with the pilot, Jason Forbes, who was pronounced dead on the scene. A woman, later identified as Annya Duncan, a Jamaican national and teacher at the Montserrat Secondary School also died in the aircraft. A 57-year old Guyanese woman was the other victim.
The woman was said to have died shortly after arriving at the Mount Saint John Medical Centre and the sole survivor is a British national, who is said to have sustained bruises, lacerations and a broken ankle and that none of his injuries were life threatening, according to official reports.
Fly Montserrat also resumed its regular scheduled service on Monday among Antigua, Montserrat and Nevis.