USCG and DPNR Rescue Survivor of Downed Aircraft South of St. Thomas; Search for Additional Survivors Continues


U.S. Coast Guard and V.I. Department of Natural Resources rescue crews rescued a woman of a downed aircraft Saturday afternoon, October 13, and continue searching for three additional possible survivors, approximately six nautical miles south of St. Thomas.

Rescued is Valerie Jackson, who was able to report to search and rescue personnel that there were three additional passengers, a woman and two men, traveling aboard the aircraft when it crashed into the water.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the friends and families of the aircraft passengers who are still missing,” said. Capt. Drew Pearson, USCG Sector San Juan commander. “Coast Guard search and rescue crews are aggressively searching for the three remaining passengers and will continue to do so as long as it is safe for our rescue crews to operate in the area as we continue to monitor the passing of Tropical Storm Rafael.”

Coast Guard Watchstanders received notification at approximately 7:50 a.m. Saturday from the U.S. Virgin Islands Emergency Management Agency reporting an overdue twin-engine Piper Aztec aircraft that had taken off from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands and was headed to St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands to deliver a shipment of newspapers. 

Local aircraft flying the area and the crew of a C-130 Hurricane Hunter, tracking the incoming Tropical Storm Rafael, reported finding a possible debris field, approximately six nautical miles southwest of St. Thomas. 

Coast Guard Sector San Juan Watchstanders proceeded to launch an Air Station Borinquen MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, a Coast Guard 25-foot response boat and a Coast Guard Auxiliary fixed-wing aircraft to search for signs of a downed aircraft and possible survivors. 

A Department of Natural and Environmental Resources marine unit also responded to the reported location, and additional volunteer civilian aircraft have also been assisting with ongoing search efforts.

At approximately 2 p.m. Saturday, the crew of a Coast Guard helicopter located Jackson in the water and vectored-in the DPNR marine unit to her position. The crew of the DPNR marine unit safely recovered the survivor from the water and transported her to St. Thomas, where she was transferred to awaiting Emergency Medical Services personnel.

Coast Guard assets searching are: Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo; MH-65 Dolphin helicopters; Coast Guard Auxiliary fixed-wing aircraft; Coast Guard 25-foot response boat; and HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft deployed from Miami, Fla.

Any persons who may have any information related to this incident should contact the US Coast Guard Sector San Juan Command Center at 787-289-2041.