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Navy pilot presumed dead after crash in Lake Pontchartrain

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Search efforts turned into a recovery operation Monday after T-34 crashed Saturday night
  • Missing pilot identified as Lt. Clinton Wermers, 33, of Mitchell, South Dakota
  • The T-34 is a single-engine, single-prop plane used for primary training for student pilots
  • Second unidentified man, a flight student, survived the crash
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(CNN) -- Search efforts turned into a recovery operation Monday for a U.S. Navy instructor pilot presumed dead after his plane crashed into Lake Pontchartrain, just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, during a routine training mission, a Navy spokesman said.

The student pilot on the plane was rescued about two hours after the crash Saturday night and taken to a hospital for mild hypothermia and moderate injuries, according to the Navy. He has since been released.

The missing instructor pilot has been identified as Lt. Clinton Wermers, 33, of Mitchell, South Dakota. The Navy did not identify the rescued student pilot. The two pilots were attached to Training Squadron 6 at Naval Air Station Whiting Field in Milton, Florida.

Initial reports were that both the pilots were clinging to the aircraft before it sank, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which is assisting in the search. Lt. Brett Dawson, a Navy air training spokesman, told CNN Monday that the wreckage of the plane has been located and a salvage unit will be working to recover it. The cause of the crash is under investigation, Dawson said.

Air traffic controllers at Lakefront Airport in New Orleans notified the Coast Guard at 6:40 p.m. Saturday that a U.S. Navy T-34 training plane was no longer visible on radar, the Coast Guard said in a news release. The plane had been approaching the airport during a routine nighttime instrument training mission, the Navy said.

The T-34 is a single-engine, single-prop plane used for primary training for student pilots. It does not have an ejection mechanism, Dawson said. Instead, pilots can open the canopy, slide it back and roll out of the aircraft.

At the time of the crash, the temperature was 50 degrees Fahrenheit with calm winds, the Coast Guard said. The water temperature was 52 degrees.

CNN's Sarah Aarthun and Sara Pratley contributed to this report.

 
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