NTSB: Instructor, student presumed dead after plane crash near New Smyrna Beach

-- Feb. 17--NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- A flight instructor and his student are presumed dead in the wreckage of a small plane in the Atlantic Ocean off Bethune Beach, but searches have yet to locate their bodies, an official with the National...


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Feb. 17--NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- A flight instructor and his student are presumed dead in the wreckage of a small plane in the Atlantic Ocean off Bethune Beach, but searches have yet to locate their bodies, an official with the National Transportation Safety Board said this afternoon.

Divers have found what they believe to be pieces of the wreckage of the plane that crashed Wednesday evening, but the parts have not been identified, said Butch Wilson, an NTSB air safety investigator.

Radar is being used to search for the plane's wreckage as searchers concentrate their efforts on recovering the bodies, Wilson said.

An instructor and student from Phoenix East Aviation, a Daytona Beach flight school, were on the single-engine Cessna 172 plane that crashed at about 6:30 p.m. about 150 yards off the shore.

The plane had traveled from Daytona Beach to Sarasota and then to Melbourne, Wilson said. While returning to Daytona Beach, it was using a training area near Bethune Beach, Wilson said. That area is used to practice maneuvers and over-water flying, he said.

"We don't know what happened," Andre Maye, the school's vice president of administration, said Thursday morning.

Authorities have not revealed the identities of the two people aboard the plane.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Air Force are part of the search for wreckage and any possible survivors, Maye said.

Officials said the plane was quickly submerged, and attempts by witnesses to wade out to the aircraft were unsuccessful.

Although there were reports of witnesses saying the plane was smoking or on fire when it crashed, Wilson said none of the witnesses he has questioned have indicated that was the case.

The Volusia County Beach Patrol found a wallet of one of the people aboard the plane among the debris on Wednesday night, said beach patrol spokeswoman Capt. Tammy Marris. The beach patrol is no longer involved in the search.

Wilson said all four headrests from the four-seat plane as well as a tire and rim and other debris have washed up on the beach.

It could take six months to a year to determine the cause of the crash, Wilson said. And what investigators will be able to determine will depend on how much of the wreckage is recovered, he said.

Once the wreckage is recovered, the flight school's insurance company will hire a company to remove it from the water, Wilson said.

The Cessna 172 is a common plane used to train pilots; the model comprises up to 70 percent of Phoenix East Aviation's fleet of 32 planes, Maye said.

The school conducts training flights from about 6 a.m. to nearly midnight each day.

Phoenix East Aviation is a nationally accredited training program for commercial pilots. In 1999, one of the school's planes collided with another plane in mid-air over DeLand, killing an instructor and student.

The Coast Guard said a 47-foot rescue boat and an 87-foot Coast Guard Cutter Kingfisher were called to aid in the search, as was a Volusia County sheriff's helicopter.

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