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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, December 8, 2022
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Missing Aircraft and One Body Located

A wing of the recovered plane breaks the surface. The plane was floated using air bags. (Government House photo)Searchers Saturday located the missing Piper Aztec airplane that disappeared Oct. 13 on a routine newspaper delivery run between St. Croix and St. Thomas.

Government House spokesman Jean Greaux said there was one body on board. He said searchers found no trace of the other missing people.

“It’s suspected to be a female, but I can’t confirm,” Greaux said of the body on board the plane.

He later said the identity of the passenger recovered from the fuselage will not be made public until it has been confirmed and the next of kin notified.

In addition to pilot Kirby Hodge, the plane had Rachel Hamilton, Darwin Carr, and Valerie Jackson Thompson on board. Thompson was pulled alive out of the water about nine hours after the plane went down when a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter spotted her. A Planning and Natural Resources boat picked her up. Until Saturday no trace of the plane or the three missing people had been found, although searchers found a bundle of St. Croix Avis newspapers Oct. 14.

Hodge and his passengers left Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix at 4:40 a.m. Oct. 13 bound for St. Thomas. Hodge’s last radio contact to the Federal Aviation Airport control tower at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas came when he was about eight miles out from the airport. Hodge’s plane fell off radar shortly after at 4:57 a.m.

Using radar coordinates supplied Thursday by the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Team in Florida, searchers were able to close in on the area where the plane went down. Greaux said at about 1 p.m. Saturday they spotted an oil sheen on the water a little over one mile northeast of where the plane fell off the radar a week ago. He said searchers located the plane in about 100 feet of water. The aircraft was lying on its roof with one wing separated but the fuselage generally intact. Divers also spotted one body in the aircraft.

About four hours later, using an inflatable air-bag device, the fuselage was floated. Divers secured the plane’s openings and began the slow process of towing the aircraft to St. Thomas to facilitate removal of the body and secure the aircraft for a subsequent investigation into the cause of the crash.

At 8:30 p.m., searchers were still bringing the plane with the body on board into the west end of Cyril E. King Airport, but it was expected to arrive sometime Saturday night, Greaux said.

The Coast Guard launched a mission early Oct. 13 with searchers from several government agencies as well as the Sea Tow company joining in. The Coast Guard suspended what was termed a rescue operation at sunset Oct. 15, but teams from the Planning and Natural Resources Department, the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency and the V.I. Port Authority continued searching in recovery mode throughout the week.

The multi-agency recovery team also included the Governor’s office, the Medical Examiner’s Office within the Department of Justice and the V.I. Police Department’s Forensics Unit.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story updates and replaces an earlier version posted at 6 p.m. Saturday.

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