Search called off for missing co-pilot (Skyway SH36 Aircraft crash)

POSTED: 10/31/14 11:06 AM

St. Maarten – Search and rescue efforts for the second passenger of the small Sky Way plane that crashed on Wednesday night was called off around 5:00 pm yesterday afternoon.

“On Wednesday, October 29th at 6:39 pm a Short SH36 aircraft operated by Skyway Airways departed from Princess Juliana International Airport en route to San Juan. Shortly after take-off, during the initial climb and at 200 feet of altitude, Juliana Tower lost contact with the aircraft and it could no longer be perceived on the radar. Based on the information gathered we now know that the aircraft crashed into the waters just of the coast of Sint Maarten. Only two pilots were onboard the plane upon departure, the body of one pilot was recovered while the other pilot is still missing. The names of the pilots involved in the accident will be released pending proper identification. The Sint Maarten Civil Aviation Authority (SMCAA) investigation into the cause of the accident is in its preliminary stage and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) will be travelling to Sint Maarten to assist the department with the ongoing investigation,” a news release from the DCOMM states.

The plane crashed into the sea a few miles off St. Maarten shortly after the control tower had reported losing contact with it. Coast Guard and marine personnel immediately started a search and rescue effort about eight pm on Wednesday night which continued into the wee hours of Thursday morning. On Wednesday night the body of the pilot of the small craft—who has been identified as forty nine years old Eric Schnell —was discovered as was some debris from the plane. The next of kin of Schnell is said to have been informed of the crash and his subsequent death as a result. The search was called off on Thursday morning around 2:00 am because of bad weather but resumed yesterday morning.

However despite hours of searching in the area where the plane is believed to have gone down, neither the second passenger of neither that plane who is said to have been the co-pilot nor the plane itself had been found. The missing co-pilot has been identified as Rigorberto Lopez. The small cargo plane was expected to land in San Juan Puerto Rico at 7:30pm on Wednesday night.

The Civil Aviation Authority (SMCAA) has begun an investigation into the plane crash to ascertain what factors lead to the small plane tanking 200 feet into its initial climb. Officials of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) are reported to be travelling here to assist with the investigation. The AAIB officials are expected to arrive here today.

“The accident occurred in the Territory of Sint Maarten and therefore the Sint Maarten Civil Aviation Authority (SMCAA) will be leading the investigation. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) ANNEX 13 Accident Investigation provides guidance on the role of the different States with regards to an aircraft accident investigation. The State of Registry for the aircraft; the State of which the accident occurred and the State of Manufacturer all has a role to play in conducting the investigation. The aircraft, Short SH36 was manufactured in the United Kingdom as such the AAIB will assist with respect to this area of the investigation. The aircraft was registered in the United States of America and Skyway is a US FAA part 135 certified cargo operator as such the NTSB  and FAA involvement is also required.”

The investigators from AAIB will all be arriving on Sint Maarten today to assist the SMCAA with the investigation into the cause of this crash.” Please bear in mind that this can be a very lengthy process that can take some months before there are any definite answers on what caused this unfortunate accident. Additionally persons are advised that if you may encounter debris in the coastal waters, that they believe to be parts of the plane, please call the Sint Maarten Civil Aviation Authority (SMCAA) at 545 4226.  Your cooperation in this investigation is very much appreciated.”

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