DANIA BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Crews pulled the wreckage of a small plane from its resting place several miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, one day after, officials said, it crashed into the ocean, killing both people on board.

Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue, along with the U.S. Coast Guard responded to the scene, Saturday morning. Coast Guard rescue boats were seen circling in the Atlantic Ocean, near the spot where the aircraft went down.

“The initial report is that the plane took off from Pompano Beach Airport, at approximately 8:30, and then the first distress calls were received shortly before 10,” said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Kelley.

“It looks like it hit the water very hard,” said Larry Acheson with TowBoatU.S. Fort Lauderdale.

The next day, divers with TowBoatU.S. Fort Lauderdale took a camera underwater as they began the recovery mission. They found the four-passenger aircraft in pieces about 25 feet below the surface.

“The wings are folded straight up and are now straight down, so they’re broken almost free of the fuselage,” said Acheson. “The engine is almost free of the fuselage, as well.”

Divers carefully pulled personal items from the mangled metal.

Officials said they received a distress call from the tower at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Saturday, at 9:57 a.m., alerting them that a Cessna 172 had crashed about a mile and a half south of Port Everglades.

7News obtained part of the radio transmission from the pilot moments before the crash:

Tower: “How can I help you?”

Pilot: “I am presently southbound along the shoreline, my destination is Ocean Reef. Request permission to continue along the shoreline under 500 feet.”

Tower: “Be advised, there’s heavy precipitation after 12 o’clock, ranging about four miles. You might want to proceed another three miles off shore to avoid that precipitation.”

Broward Sheriff’s Fire Rescue crews were able to locate the wreckage about 200 yards off Dania Beach.

About 15 minutes later, they found the two victims in the water, just north of the debris field. Neither had survived the crash.

“I couldn’t believe that would happen right here,” said beachgoer Jessica Abou.

Crews continued searching the water for several hours until they could confirm there were only two people on board the four-passenger plane.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the plane was heading southbound over the shoreline when it went down.

“There was zero visibility,” said witness James Carter, who said he was at the beach early Saturday but couldn’t see much because of the weather conditions.

“The thunder and the lightning. It was pretty intense,” said Carter.

Meanwhile, members of the local aviation community mourned the victims. “It’s sad. It’s very sad,” said a woman. “Yeah, there’s no words.”

Sunday afternoon, crews used an inflatable balloon to lift the plane off the sea floor. “There’s so much sharp aluminum, so you want to make sure and get everything out of the ocean, so it doesn’t pollute the ocean, but also so no one gets hurt on it,” said Acheson.

The National Transportation Safety Board has taken over the investigation. It remains unclear if weather played a role in the crash, or if the plane went down due to a mechanical issue.

Authorities will not release the names of the victims until their families have been notified.

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