MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- The deadly crash of a seaplane shortly after takeoff was apparently caused by the right wing breaking off during flight, investigators said yesterday. It was unclear why the wing detached.
Salvage crews raised the wing out of the channel where the 58-year-old turboprop aircraft crashed Monday within sight of horrified beachgoers. All 20 people on the flight headed to the Bahamas were killed.
Corrosion and stress are among the reasons a wing might split from the fuselage, but it could take nine months to a year to report on the probable cause of the crash, said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.
''Unfortunately, we still have a great distance to go," he said.
The right wing was removed from the water with its propeller and engine still attached, but Rosenker declined to provide details about the wing's condition.
The plane crashed into the mouth of Government Cut channel off the southern tip of Miami Beach and is in 35 feet of water.
The rest of the plane won't be raised until today, Coast Guard spokesman Dana Warr said. Rosenker called it a delicate operation because moving the plane too quickly could cause it to break under the weight of the water.
Investigators were still trying to find the cockpit voice recorder, which might have captured any noises or the last words of the pilots. But the main portion of the recorder was in the tail, which Rosenker said was difficult to reach because the plane was mangled.
Eighteen passengers -- including three infants -- and two crew members were on the Chalk's Ocean Airways flight. At least 11 of the victims were returning home to the island of Bimini, many of them after Christmas shopping jaunts. Weeping islanders went house to house yesterday to grieve.
''There is not one house, not one family that has been untouched by this tragedy," said Lloyd Edgecombe, a real estate agent and local government council member on Bimini, an island of 1,600 residents.
One of the victims, Sergio Danguillecourt, was a member of the board of directors of Bacardi Ltd. and a great-great-grandson of the rum distiller's cofounder, Don Facundo Bacardi, the company said.
The plane was a twin-engine Grumman G-73T Turbine Mallard. It previously had few major reported incidents, and no passengers or crew were injured in any of them, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Rosenker urged witnesses with amateur video or photographs of the crash to come forward. He said investigators were helped by accounts of the crash from tipsters and an amateur video obtained by CNN that showed the main part of the craft slamming into the water.