Plane Down

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Video: Miami Crash

Dec. 20, 2005

I'm on South Beach, about 300 yards from the rock jetty bordering the entrance to Government Cut, where the Chalks seaplane crashed Monday afternoon. Police won't let us get any closer, even though surfers are in the water roughly 50 feet from the search area.

Miami Beach Police have stretched crime scene tape across the beach, tying one end to a metal trashcan at the water's edge, the other to a fencepost protecting the dunes. There are about a dozen television cameras, including ours, lined up along my side of the tape, and all are cabled back to microwave and satellite trucks in a nearby parking lot. All the networks are going live, and so are the locals, with hits every hour, or twice an hour.

The surfers were out almost as early as we were, at 5 a.m. When some get tired and leave the beach, others arrive, even though the waves are pretty tame — not much higher than three or four feet.

I've talked to a couple surfers who witnessed the crash. One woman was on her board in the ocean right near the jetty, and says the plane came down almost right over her head.

At that point, she says she could see the plane had lost a wing, and a portion of the aircraft was in flames.

The NTSB is on scene, hoping to raise the fuselage and clear the wreckage field from the channel. They're also searching for a twentieth body. In the meantime, three cruise ships are stuck in port, and several cargo ships wait at sea, unable to go in or out until the government gives the OK.

I actually flew on a seaplane once, years ago, out of Government Cut to Key West. It might have been a Chalks plane. It could've been the very same one, in fact, since the company only has five and the plane that crashed was 58 years old.

This time, many of the people on board had come to Miami to shop for Christmas gifts, and were on the way home for the holidays. Three of those killed were infants.

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