Downed Aircraft Located and Bodies of Two Missing Passengers Recovered


The Piper Aztec aircraft in waters off Cyril E. King Airport after being towed.

The aircraft lifted by a crane from waters off the King Airport runway on Sunday morning.

Recovery crews working in the eighth straight day to locate a missing aircraft, the pilot and two passengers struck a positive chord on Saturday afternoon, October 20, when they located the Piper Aztec aircraft on the ocean floor a little over one mile northeast of where the plane fell off radar a week ago.

Recovery crews including a number of local government agencies, a salvage company as well as several private boat operators had been conducting first a rescue mission augmented by U.S. Coast Guard assets and over the last five days, a recovery mission to locate the missing passengers and aircraft.

Following the suspension of the rescue effort last Monday night,  the Department of Planning and Natural Resources led a recovery mission with the ultimate objective being to locate the aircraft and recover the missing passengers. The multi-agency recovery team has also included: VITEMA, the Office of the Governor and the V.I. Port Authority and Sunday, October 21, the Medical Examiner’s Office within the Department of Justice and the V.I. Police Department’s Forensics Unit.

On October 18, government responders obtained the last recorded radar position of the aircraft from federal authorities which allowed the mission to be refocused to a specific area.

On Saturday afternoon at about 1 p.m. an oil sheen was discovered on the ocean surface and dive crews entered the water at that location in search for the missing aircraft. Divers went into about 100 feet of water and spotted the aircraft lying on its roof with one wing separated but the fuselage generally intact.  Divers also spotted one body in the aircraft.

About four hours later, using an inflatable air bag device, the fuselage was floated. Divers secured the plane’s openings and began the slow process of towing the aircraft to St. Thomas to facilitate removal of the body and securing the aircraft for a subsequent investigation into the cause of the crash.

Pilot Kirby Hodge and three passengers took off from St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen airport at about 4:40 a.m. on the morning of October 13 destined for St. Thomas. Hodge’s last radio contact to the FAA control tower on St. Thomas came when he was about eight miles out from the King Airport. Hodge’s plane fell off radar shortly thereafter at 4:57 a.m.

A rescue mission was activated and a U.S. Coast Guard chopper found Valerie Jackson Thompson in the waters southwest of St. Thomas about 2 p.m. some nine hours after the plane crashed. The missing passengers include: Darwin Carr, Rachel Hamilton and pilot Kirby Hodge.  

After the aircraft was raised from the waters near the Cyril E. King Airport, recovery crews removed the bodies of the two missing passengers from the downed Piper Aztec airplane on Sunday morning, October 21.

The missing passengers were Darwin Carr and Rachel Hamilton. There were no signs of the missing pilot, Kirby Hodge. Late Sunday morning, government officials notified the families of Rachel Hamilton and Darwin Carr that the aircraft had been found, that the two bodies had been recovered and that in all likelihood, the bodies were those of Hamilton and Carr. An autopsy scheduled for early next week will confirm the identities and determine the cause of death.

Both the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have been notified that the aircraft was located. Federal officials are expected on island shortly to begin the process of determining the cause of the October 13 crash.