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Fourth body found after planes collide over Everglades

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Investigators return to wreckage site day after mid-air collision

By Peter Burke – Local10.com Managing Editor, Amanda Batchelor – Senior Digital Editor, Todd Tongen – Anchor/Reporter, Terrell Forney – Reporter

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MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A fourth body was found Wednesday, a day after two small planes collided over the Florida Everglades, Miami-Dade police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta said.

Zabaleta said the fourth victim of Tuesday’s collision was identified as Carlo Alfredo Zanetti Scarpati, 22.

Three other victims were previously identified as Jorge Sanchez, 22, Ralph Knight, 72, and Nisha Sejwal, 19.

All four victims were believed to have been training and departed from Miami Executive Airport.

“We can’t tell you, at this point, who was flying the aircrafts,” Zabaleta said.

Although it’s unclear who was actually flying the planes, authorities said Sanchez was a flight instructor, who was with Zanetti Scarpati, who was a student-pilot and not licensed. They were in the Piper PA-34, which was still intact in the wreckage.

Meanwhile, Knight, who was a pilot and FAA inspector, was with Sejwal, who was also a licensed pilot, in the Cessna 172. That plane broke apart on impact.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue officials said one crash was reported shortly after 1 p.m. in an area several miles west of Miccosukee Resort & Gaming, near the border of the Everglades. Authorities arrived at the scene to find a second plane had crashed nearby.

“Our crews were actually out here this morning, training for incidents just as this in the anticipation of aircraft accidents or incidents,” Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Andy Alvarez said Tuesday.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue personnel had to use an airboat to access the first crash site.

Daniel Miralles was fishing with some friends along a canal when he witnessed the mid-air collision.

“Right when I looked up is the minute they collided,” Miralles said.

Miralles managed to record the aftermath as the two planes crashed to the ground.

“It felt like there was an 18-wheeler behind me going 100 mph. That’s what it sounded like,” he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the planes involved in the crash were a Piper PA-34 and a Cessna 172.

A sign on the side of one of the planes read “Dean International.” The flight school, headquartered at Miami Executive Airport, is the subject of an investigation involving another small plane crash in May.

At that time, records showed there had been 23 incidents involving the flight school that required investigation within the past 10 years.

Two survivors from the May 3 crash were taken to Kendall Regional Medical Center, where they were treated for their injuries.

Tuesday’s crash comes a year after Dean International student Mark Ukaere was killed when he took a small plane for a flight without permission. He was supposed to be flying with an instructor, but his girlfriend, Mercy Akinyemi, who lives in New Jersey, said he told her the instructor never showed up.

Robert Dean, the flight school’s owner, attributed the cause of the crash that killed Ukaere, 29, to spatial disorientation due to the darkness of the night over the Everglades. Ukaere’s body was found the morning after the crash near the wreckage.

Several people were seen going inside Dean International Flight Training when the school opened Wednesday morning, but nobody would open the door when Local 10 News reporter Samantha Bryant knocked to speak to someone about Tuesday’s mid-air collision.

Lea Bucciero, whose firm Podhurst Orseck has been involved with every major airline crash worldwide since a Valujet plane crashed in the Everglades in 1996, however, spoke with Local 10 News on Wednesday.

A day after the crash, her office was only monitoring the latest developments with the deadly mid-air collision.

“The space in the Everglades isn’t monitored by air traffic control, so it’s then incumbent on the pilots to ensure that they’re maintaining separation between aircraft,” Bucciero said. 

Questions over Dean International’s safety programs and procedures have long been raised because of those previous two dozen incidents in the past 10 years.

Maintenance records obtained by Local 10 News show repeated issues, like loose screws and corrosion.

“It’s really difficult to make any kind of connection between that and what occurred yesterday, or even the fatal accident a year ago, because a mid-air collision is mainly a pilot operation issue,” Bucciero said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the collision.

“Now they begin their process of the investigation,” Zabaleta said.

While Southwest Eighth Street has reopened to traffic, the Coopertown airboat tour company remains a part of the crime scene and an area where the victims’ families have gathered.

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