Coast Guard Sector San Juan Incident Management Division personnel are overseeing salvage efforts by the owning company of a Piper Aztec airplane Wednesday, after the twin-engine aircraft crashed into San Juan Harbor’s San Antonio channel Tuesday afternoon, killing the pilot and one of two aircraft mechanics who were aboard.
“Our most heartfelt condolences go out to the family, friends and loved ones of the men who were lost in this very unfortunate incident,” said Capt. Eric King, Commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Juan. “We are thankful to hear that the sole survivor is recovering at a local hospital and wish him a prompt and successful recovery.”
Following the completion of search and rescue operations, Sector San Juan IMD personnel requested a salvage plan from Marine Diving Contractors and Clean Harbors Caribe, as the companies hired by the owner, Vieques Air Link, Inc. to recover the aircraft and remove the pollution threat from the San Antonio Channel.
The pollution threat represented by the aircraft consists of a maximum potential discharge of 144 gallons of Jet-A fuel that could potentially be released into the water, although the actual amount of fuel the aircraft was carrying at the time of the crash remains uncertain.
“Our main focus at this point is to ensure the safe recovery of the aircraft and removal of the pollution threat from the San Antonio Channel, which is just off the Club Nautico and San Juan Bay marinas,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kevin Villanueva, Sector San Juan IMD Marine Science Technician. “The impacts to the environment should be minimal considering this type of fuel evaporates quickly.”
As part of the operation, Clean Harbors personnel deployed containment boom around the crash site to prevent fuel from spreading inside the channel.
Watchstanders in Sector San Juan received a VHF marine radio transmission on Channel-16 from San Juan Bay pilots at 1:35 p.m. Tuesday, who reported the downed aircraft to the Coast Guard. Watchstanders immediately diverted a Boat Station San Juan 33-foot Special Purpose Craft-Law Enforcement from a training mission and directed the launch of a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Borinquen. Upon arriving on scene, the Boat Station San Juan crew assisted local emergency crews in reaching and recovering divers from the crash site, who successfully recovered the deceased.