The shocking death of Ommy Irizarry and his daughter Oceana Sunday on a Florida beach has an entire Puerto Rican city in mourning. Irizarry was born and raised in Mayaguez, on the west coast of Puerto Rico, and even though he left for the mainland 11 years ago, he made a point of visiting often.
The last time he came home was in early July, when he invited his mother Isabel Medina and his 12-year-old son from his first marriage to Miami for a family vacation meant to celebrate his ninth wedding anniversary to Rebecca Power.
“He was a special person,” his cousin Marilyn Acevedo told Fox News Latino on the phone. “He made a difference in everybody’s life,” she said.
Acevedo said her home has been flooded with people since news of the tragedy broke on Sunday, people who knew and felt the loss of Ommy, 36.
Ommy and Oceana were walking along Caspersen Beach in Venice when a 1972 Piper Cherokee plane hit them while making an emergency landing.
He died at the scene, right before his mother’s eyes, while the 9-year-old girl was airlifted to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg and died from her injuries Monday.
Irizarry’s wife was also at the beach, as well as his son and a younger daughter.
Acevedo, the cousin, told Fox News Latino that stopping at the beach was a last-minute decision, in order to kill time before dropping the younger Irizarry at the airport for his flight back to Mayaguez.
In a statement, the family thanked the emergency responders and beachgoers who helped them, and expressed gratitude for prayers and support from around the world.
"There are no words to describe the suffering we are experiencing," the statement said. "Their loss is devastating to our family and to everyone who knew them."
He "was a beloved husband, father, son, brother, friend and soldier," the family wrote in the statement. "He lit up the room whenever he entered and was devoted to his family."
Irizarry was stationed at Fort Stewart base in Georgia. According to Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia, he had been in service for 12 years and was deployed twice to Iraq.
Oceana was about to enter fourth grade, the family said.
"Oceana was a beautiful, intelligent and kind-hearted little girl," the statement said. "She was a natural artist who loved to learn."
Many of Ommy's photos on Facebook were of him, his wife Rebecca and their three children. The family could be seen smiling on various beaches and playing in the water through the years.
It was unclear how the plane or the debris hit the father and his daughter. Officials say the pilot radioed the airport that he was having trouble with the plane and was planning to land on the beach.
"He's trying to make the airport," a woman calling 911 from the airport said. "He says he's not going to make the airport. But he's going to be on the beach."
In other 911 calls, a family friend cried as she described the scene while screams and wailing could be heard in the background. Another man told a dispatcher about the little girl's condition.
"She's breathing a little right now," a man said. "Rapid pulse and difficult breathing. She's unconscious."
The pilot was identified as Karl Kokomoor, 57, and the passenger was David Theen, 60, both of nearby Englewood. They were not injured.
The National Transportation Safety Board was investigating.
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