Pilot Kirby Hodge is still missing, but two bodies tentatively identified as Rachel Hamilton and Darwin Carr were discovered Sunday inside the Piper Aztec plane that disappeared while returning to St. Thomas from a routine newspaper delivery run in St. Croix on October 13.
Government House spokesman Jean Greaux on Sunday said that the identification is tentative pending an autopsy, but physical characteristics matched those of Hamilton and Carr. The autopsy will also show the cause of death.
The aircraft was located on the ocean floor, five miles southwest of the Cyril E. King Airport runway, a little more than one mile northeast of where the plane disappeared from the radar screen a week before. It was found upside down in 100 feet of water with one wing detached. The fuselage was in fairly good condition.
The plane’s wreckage was transported by crane to a platform truck located at the northwestern end of the airport; where it will remain until investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board arrive sometime during the week to determine the cause of the accident.
The lone survivor, Valerie Jackson Thompson, was pulled from the water about nine hours after the plane disappeared. She remains stable condition at Schneider Hospital and has been advised of the recovery of Hamilton and Carr’s bodies. Hamilton was her cousin.
Thompson had been swimming and struggling to stay afloat in the water without out a life vest, according to her statement to authorities.
Thompson said the flight from St. Croix to St. Thomas had appeared to be a normal one with just minor turbulence along the way until she felt the aircraft hit the sea.
She said she felt water rushing into the plane and someone held her and pushed her out of the plane and into the cold dark Caribbean Sea, but she did not believe that the others aboard the plane were able to make it out, because the plane was sinking fast and she never saw anyone again.
Hodge had delivered a shipment of The Daily News newspapers to St. Croix and was returning to St. Thomas about 4:40 a.m. with a shipment of St. Croix Avis newspapers and the three passengers when the plane went down. Searchers found a bundle of The St. Croix Avis newspapers about 3 miles west of Buck Island off St. Thomas the next day.
Greaux has stated that an official debriefing meeting will be held later this week that will include the government agencies, private entities and all of the volunteers who were a part of the search, rescue and recovery efforts.