As authorities continued searching the waters off the Bahamas on Tuesday for the bodies of three Naples businessmen believed dead in a weekend plane crash, the mystery remained: What went wrong with the plane?
Presumed dead were J.P. Antonmattei, 42, who has been serving as president of the Naples Area Board of Realtors; David Howell, 45, an accomplished pilot who owned Naples Patio and Andrew Peterson, 27, a Wisconsin transplant who wanted to get involved in an investment project in the Bahamas.
Bahamas Department of Civil Aviation inspectors were at the crash site near the Bahamas off the northeast coast of the Bimini Bay Resort searching for bodies and removing the wrecked plane Tuesday, said Walter Evans, acting manager for Flight Standards Inspectorate of the Bahamas Civil Aviation Department.
During Tuesday’s search, officials found a wallet and human remains, said Krystal Knowles, spokeswoman for the Bahamas Information Services, declining to elaborate on whose wallet was located.
The aircraft was removed from the water Tuesday for an investigation to begin on what caused the crash, officials said.
Officials said it wasn’t known when the search for the remains would end.
A friend of the pilot said five people had flown over to the Bahamas late last week, but two stayed there while the other three left Sunday to fly back to Fort Lauderdale.
On Facebook, user names Patrick Naasz and Sasha identified themselves as the couple who remained in Nassau after the three Naples men left for Florida.
The Piper Cherokee Six aircraft, a single-engine, six-seat plane, was registered as N4219R to a Naples business.
Other pilots familiar with the aircraft said it’s safe to fly.
“A Piper Cherokee has a very good reputation of being a safe airplane,” charter airplane captain and pilot John Swasey said.
That specific plane is forgiving and stable, Swasey added, noting the airplane can only be as safe as it is maintained for the pilot and owner.
Without knowing the specific details of the flight and conditions, Swasey said it is hard to say if weather played a factor in the crash.
Pilot John Villada, who was been flying for about 25 years and is owner of Advanced Aviation Sales Inc., echoed Swasey about the aircraft’s safety.
Because of the plane’s fixed gear, Villada said, it would be difficult to land on water.
Villada, who has done that same trip on his single-engine plane about 30 times, said it’s a safe trip and he would do it again.
Howell, the pilot and co-owner, had three sons, ages 8, 16 and 20, and had just turned 45. He had been flying since 1995.
Antonmattei, who was described by acquaintances as Howell’s best friend, recently became president of the Naples Area Board of Realtors (NABOR) and had been an agent with Amerivest Realty since 2008. His Facebook page shows he turned 42 in December.
Peterson was struggling to find enough work in Southwest Florida, acquaintances said. That’s why he was so gung-ho about getting involved in an investment project in the Bahamas.
The group had gone together to the Bahamas to take a look at an investment project there.
The search for three Naples businessmen continues today.
Bahamian Department of Civil Aviation inspectors were at the site near the Bahamas searching for bodies and removing the wrecked plane, said Walter Evans, acting manager for Flight Standards Inspectorate of the Bahamian Department of Civil Aviation.
During Tuesday's search, officials found a wallet and some human remains.
After it was first reported that one body had been found, Coast Guard spokesman David Schuhlein said they didn’t recover a body in the plane crash near the Bahamas.
The Coast Guard was an assisting agency, but did not do any of the search, Schuhlein said.
The plane that crashed is a Piper Cherokee Six aircraft, a single-engine, six-seater plane. It was registered as N4219R to a Naples business.
"A Piper Cherokee has a very good reputation of being a safe airplane," charter airplane captain and pilot John Swasey said.
That specific plane is very forgiving and stable, but Swasey said the airplane can only be as safe as the pilot and owner maintain it in safe conditions.
Without knowing the specific details of the flight, Swasey said it was hard to say if weather played a factor in the crash.