FAA, NTSB investigating after plane crash kills 4 in Southwest Miami-Dade

SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, Fla. (WSVN) — The National Transportation Safety Board held a press conference Thursday morning regarding a small plane crash that occurred in Southwest Miami-Dade on Wednesday afternoon, killing all four people on board.

The conference held at 11 a.m. was the beginning of what NTSB officials said will be a six-month investigation into what exactly caused the crash. Basically our goal today is to document the on-scene portion of the wreckage so that it could be moved,” said NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator Bob Gretz.

According to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, the accident happened on West Krome Avenue and 144th Street, at around 2:45 p.m., shortly after the aircraft had taken off from Strip 27L, behind Reliance Aviation, at Miami Executive Airport. The crash caused a major fire, which fire crews quickly put out. “I’ve never seen such a big fire,” said witness Clara Arcia, who lives near the debris field.

Miami-Dade Aviation spokesperson Greg Chin said the pilot of the twin-engine Beechcraft 1900, 52-year-old Raul Chirivella, reported engine failure and was attempting to return to the airport.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Lt. Arnold Piedrahita said, “It’s a twin-engine aircraft, so you can’t do much with just one engine, so this pilot tried to make it back to the airport and was unsuccessful. Thankfully he was able to touch down in an area where there wasn’t more people on the ground, in an open field. Unfortunately, the passengers weren’t able to survive this.”

Investigators spent all day Thursday combing through the scene as they documented every aspect of the crash scene so that later the wreckage can be moved to a hangar. This is expected to happen sometime Thursday night.

Some witnesses told 7News they saw the crash from beginning to end. “I was heading south on Krome Avenue, and I saw the plane getting pretty, pretty close to the ground,” said driver Hector Garcia. “The pilot looked like he was trying to save the plane, to smooth out the landing, but when it crossed Krome Avenue heading west, the tail, once it caught ground, it just slammed the front end of the plane, and it instantly caught fire.”

“For a second I thought it was coming down to land,” said Angelica Rivera, who was nearby, “but then I knew that the [Miami Executive Airport] was kind of a distance from it, so that’s when we all started to notice that it was just coming downwards like faster in a plummet than it should have been.”

Another witness, who chose to remain anonymous, lives near the crash site. He recalled every detail as the plane hit the ground. “At about 2:41 is when I called 911. About two minutes prior to that, I saw the plane coming in a westerly direction, struggling to stay up in the air. As it approached Krome, it looked like he tried to land on the other side of that field and clipped that telephone pole and just spun around and hit the fence. It was just a mass explosion, a ball of fire. I tried to get close and there was no way. It was just one explosion after another.”

Wednesday afternoon, a pilot spotted the crash and reported it to Miami Executive Airport. “Now, I’m sure you guys see it. There’s a large black smoke cloud coming up, let’s say six or five miles west of you guys,” he told air controllers.

According to investigators, the plane, which FAA said was not registered to the United States, was headed to Turks and Caicos. “They were buying plane parts to take to Venezuela, said Adriana Chirinos, a family friend of the pilots, adding that Turks and Caicos was just a stop to refuel.

The four fatalities consisted only of those on board the plane, and no one on the ground was harmed. In addition to Chirivella, officials identified co-pilot Roberto Cabaniel and passenger Juan Carlos Betancourt. The fourth victim has not been identified.

Officials were able to pull human remains from the wreckage, Wednesday evening. “I was like, like, in shock,” said Chirinos, whose father was Chirivella’s best friend.

Chrinos told 7News Chirivella was an experienced aviator and a father of two. Family and friends of the victims have been expressing their sorrow on Facebook. “I spoke with [Chirivella] five minutes before he took off,” said Chrinos.

Florida Power and Light reported that 537 homes nearby lost power as a result. Power in all those homes has since been restored.

Krome Avenue between Southwest 136th Street and 186th Street was also shut down for hours but has since reopened.

The FAA and the NTSB continue to investigate this crash. They will be collecting all audio and radio data from the plane, among other factors. “We’ll be looking at the pilots, the machine and the environment,” said Gretz. “What I mean when I say ‘the pilots,’ we’ll be looking at their overall training and recent training, and the machine, we will be looking at recent maintenance.”

The remaining fuselage will be moved to a hangar and investigators hope to release a preliminary report within the next 10 days. They said a final report could take nine months to a year to complete.