Crash investigators will say in 10 days what may have led a twin-engine airplane to crash in the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge Saturday, killing the Central Florida man on board.
A salvage company will spend the next three to four days plumbing the swampy marsh 20 miles west of Boynton Beach for the plane’s wreckage and move it to a dry location for a full investigation—which may last a year or more, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said Sunday.
Police and fire rescue officials could reach the crash site only by airboat when they recovered the body of the pilot, Paul S. Soulé. He was flying home to Fruitland Park, his widow, Jodie, said Sunday.
“It makes recovery more challenging,” NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said. “You want to make sure the entire aircraft is recovered, and that can be challenging in this area, especially in water.”
The initial report, which the NTSB will publish to its website in 10 business days, will concentrate on facts that may have contributed to the crash, such as a report that the pilot was trying to fly around thunderstorms that pounded South Florida over the weekend. But any conclusions will not be known for months, Knudson said.
Soulé, 75, was an experienced pilot. A graduate of Miami Senior High and the University of Miami, he retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Air Force in 1987, where he primarily flew cargo planes, according to his company’s website. He had been flying for 57 years and had gone more than 18,000 flight hours without an incident.
In 2008, he was one of only a handful of pilots ever presented with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, which “recognizes pilots who have demonstrated professionalism, skill and aviation expertise by maintaining safe operations for 50 or more years,” according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Soulé had flown his Cessna 340A from Leesburg to Fort Lauderdale on Friday, according to his flight plan, and was flying home from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport when he took off at 9:46 a.m. But 20 minutes later, the plane crashed in the preserve and calls started to come in shortly thereafter, a Palm Beach County Fire Rescue spokesman said.
The NTSB will work with the FAA to gather flight data and recorded conversations with air traffic control for clues to what may have happened aboard Soulé’s plane.
Soulé had a scare in March when he made an emergency landing on the grass at Leesburg Executive Airport after his landing gear failed, according to published reports.
Saturday’s crash was the second in the past two years in the refuge, a 150,000-acre sanctuary that stretches from western Boca Raton to West Palm Beach that separates the developed areas of Palm Beach County from the Everglades. The earlier one, in November 2011, killed two.
It also was the fourth in the region in the past six months. In April, a small plane crashed at Treasure Coast Airpark west of Port St. Lucie, killing its pilot. In March, a plane leaving Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport crashed into a warehouse shortly after takeoff, killing all three aboard, including a Boca Raton man and his son.
In December, a Cessna pilot was killed when he crashed at John Prince Park in suburban Lake Worth minutes after leaving Palm Beach County Park Airport in Lantana.