UPDATE: 2ND BODY HAS BEEN FOUND, NAMES OF PILOTS ROBERTO AND ERIC
SIMPSON BAY–One man is confirmed dead and another one was still missing at press time, after a small FedEx aircraft crashed into the sea shortly after takeoff from Princess Juliana International Airport SXM around 6:45pm yesterday.
The double-engine SH36 aircraft, which was said to be en route to Puerto Rico, had taken off over Maho Bay, but crashed into the sea moments later, some three or four miles off the coast. There were two people on board.
The Coast Guard and St. Maarten Sea Rescue set out immediately to search for survivors, joined by a number of private vessels, the Netherlands Royal Marines and a French helicopter.
Rescue efforts were complicated by bad weather, with heavy rain and lightning. Sea Rescue volunteers did not have time to put on rain jackets.
Reports were received around 9:30pm that large amounts of debris were washing up between Mullet Bay and La Samanna. Debris found on Mullet Beach included shoes. Rescue boats made their way to the location. Police and Volunteer Corps VKS officers who had been on standby went to the beach to search through the debris.
Around 10:20pm the Coast Guard and the Royal Marines found the lifeless body of a young man, believed to be the co-pilot, between Mullet Bay and Cupecoy, along with debris. The body, which was transported to the Coast Guard Headquarters, was said to be in a battered state and, along with the amount of debris found, suggested that the crash had been violent. Both the deceased and the missing man were said to be American nationals from Puerto Rico.
The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, volunteer Marco de Hooge at the Sea Rescue base and people on various boats were in continuous contact with each other, with De Hooge ensuring that messages were received by all parties. He also translated coordinates into real-life positions via a map, before transferring them to boats without GPS.
Despite the continuous bad weather and the find, against all hopes, of a deceased man, efforts to find the second person continued unabated. Around 11:30pm rescuers accepted the fact that they probably were searching for a deceased person. Nevertheless, the search continued.
All search parties congregated at the Coast Guard Headquarters at 1:00am and around 1:30am the search was stopped for the night with one victim still missing.
The crash follows another incident at SXM Airport just two days prior in which the same aircraft is understood to have been involved. The aircraft is said to have developed a problem during landing and to have veered to the left on the runway, nearly hitting the airport’s SOL jet fuel bunker, after which it had to be removed by the Fire Department. The aircraft had undergone repairs during the last two days.
Attempts to reach airport management or authorities for an official statement concerning the SOL incident proved futile. However, The Daily Herald confirmed the event through a number of unofficial sources.
American Aviation will take over the investigation of the crash. Searches for the missing man were expected to resume in the morning.