A Piper Navajo aircraft that crashed in waters off Bimini last month, killing one man and injuring another, may have climbed to an altitude of between 50 and 100 feet after takeoff before it plummeted into nearby waters that were no more than four feet deep at the time, a preliminary report from the Air Accident Investigation Authority (AAIA) found.
AAIA Chief Investigator Delvin Major said that on April 16, the airplane, which was en route to Opa Locka Airport, in Opa Locka, Florida, crashed shortly after takeoff at 9:42 p.m. from the South Bimini International Airport.
The pilot sustained serious injuries and his son, who occupied the right seat, died from injuries he sustained due to the crash. The pilot is a Jamaican citizen and US resident and his son was a US citizen.
“The pilot stated that he and his son took some friends over to the island and landed at approximately 8:45 p.m.,” Major said in the report.
“An instrument flight plan was subsequently filed. According to the pilot, after completing all pre-takeoff checks satisfactorily he departed and became airborne at approximately 9:40 p.m.
“The pilot further stated that after he selected gear up, he proceeded to climb to 1,200 feet, and his next memory was ‘being in the water with the crew door blown open and two Bahamian men shouted at me from approximately 300 yards away on land, ‘Sir, are you okay, do you need help?’’
“A local boat operator that was called after the crash assisted in rescuing the pilot and his son from the aircraft. The pilot’s son was not responsive; despite efforts to revive him, he succumbed to his injuries. The deceased was subsequently flown to Nassau where an autopsy was performed on the 19 April, 2021 to determine the cause of death.”
Following an onsite investigation on April 17, the AAIA concluded that the aircraft was momentarily airborne and may have reached an altitude of between 50 and 100 feet.
An eyewitness to the crash told investigations, “I observed N827RD departing runway 10 as they climbed to some 30 to 40 feet and came down a few seconds later I heard a thud at a distance.”
The AAIA said other eyewitnesses confirmed the same information. The aircraft, after takeoff, traveled 1.18 nautical miles before crashing in waters near the runway.
Both engines separated from the craft on impact and were found to the left of the final resting place of the aircraft. The left engine was found 54 feet from the craft and the right engine was found 53 feet away. Both engines were found 18.5 feet apart.
“The left wing and engine of the aircraft appeared to have made impact with the seas first, as they received the brunt of the impact forces (and damage consistent were noted), resulting in the aircraft continuing its motion to the right and away from the engines,” Major said.
The aircraft was recovered and transported to the US for further analysis.
Major also reported that the Piper Navajo was on an approved instrument flight plan to depart South Bimini at the time that it did.
He also noted that a weak high-pressure ridge was forecasted during the time of the accident but that no significant weather was anticipated.
The pilot was a US-certified commercial pilot with ratings for airplane land, single and multi-engine as well as instrument airplane ratings. His medical certificate was valid at the time of the crash, Major said. His son also held a valid US-certified private pilot license with a single-engine land rating.
The AAIA said it was unknown what role, if any, the son played during the takeoff to crash sequence.