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Crack found in doomed plane's wing

Regional airline grounds its fleet of 1940s era seaplanes

A crane raises pieces of the seaplane Wednesday morning.


The NTSB asked that anyone who witnessed the crash, or who took photographs or video, leave a message at the following telephone number:
(305) 597-4613, Ext. 13


Miami (Florida)
Air and Space Accidents

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Investigators have found a crack in the wing that broke off a seaplane before it plunged into waters off Miami's South Beach, killing 20 people, a federal official said Wednesday morning.

The crack was near where the right wing connects with the fuselage, said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

A number of factors can cause such fractures, he said. "Simple age, I don't think, would do it. You must have stress as part of it."

Investigators have begun interviewing employees of Chalk's Ocean Airways, and they also have begun reviewing the 58-year-old seaplane's maintenance and flight records, Rosenker said. (Watch an NTSB official discuss the fracture in the wing -- 5:38)

Rosenker said the FAA and Chalk's -- the owner of the seaplane -- had been informed of the development. Chalk's said it had voluntarily grounded its entire fleet of the Grumman G-73 Mallards.

Only "a very sophisticated type of test" would have revealed the incipient fracture prior to the wing's catastrophic failure, Rosenker said. "I understand they're beginning to do that now on one of their aircraft."

Meanwhile, the wing will be sent to the NTSB lab in Washington for further examination and analysis, he said.

The right wing was retrieved from the ocean Tuesday, and the engine and propeller were still attached to it, Rosenker said. (Read more)

On Wednesday morning, a crane aboard a barge pulled the mangled fuselage from about 35 feet of water.

The salvage work was "largely concluded" Wednesday, he said, with at least 80 percent of the aircraft removed from the water, loaded onto a barge and taken to a secure location for study.

The cockpit voice recorder -- which appears to be in good condition -- also was found, Rosenker said. It has been taken to NTSB headquarters in Washington, where it will be treated, dried and read during the afternoon, he said. The plane was not equipped with a flight data recorder.

Amateur video obtained by CNN showed the fuselage slam into the water Monday afternoon, followed by the wing falling through the sky on fire and leaving a trail of black smoke.

Eighteen passengers, including three toddlers, and two crew members were aboard the plane. It was en route to the Bahamian island of Bimini when it crashed shortly after takeoff. (Map)

Rosenker said 17 of the 20 people aboard have been identified.

Family members of the victims have begun arriving in Miami to claim their relatives' bodies and to meet with investigators.

One man, Leonard Stuart of Bimini, said he lost 11 relatives in the crash.

"I think I'm a little strong at this stage," he said. "I will probably break down later as we get nearer to the funeral time."

Among the crash victims were Sergio Danguillecourt -- a member of the board of directors of Bacardi Ltd. and a great-great grandson of the company's founder, Don Facundo Bacardi -- and his wife, Jacqueline Kriz Danguillecourt, the company said Tuesday.

Danguillecourt, 42, and his wife lived in Miami.

The Grumman G-73, built in 1947, was retrofitted in the mid-1980s, Rosenker said.

Chalk's Web site says the "modernization" that took place in the 1980s included "converting the piston-engine aircraft to Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop engines, as well as complete avionics upgrade."

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