Updated: Florida Pilot Survives Crash Landing In The Everglades


An as-yet-unidentified Florida pilot survived not only a nighttime crash landing in the Everglades but also about eight hours’ sitting on the wing of his mostly submerged Cessna 172 in dangerous, alligator-infested waters. Dramatic NBC News video recorded the rescue by the crew of a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter. According to FlightAware, the Cessna departed from FL31, a private STOL grass strip outside Homestead, Florida, at 1:15 a.m. on Tuesday (Oct. 31) and flew to Okeechobee Airport (KOBE).

About a half-hour after landing, it departed at 3:01 a.m. for the accident flight on a course that suggests a return flight to the Homestead area. According to FlightAware, the Cessna spiraled from an altitude of 2,000 feet to its landing spot. Though the weather at the time is unknown, a nearly full moon could have provided enough light to enable the pilot to pick his spot for landing. The cause of the crash landing is under investigation.

The aircraft was reportedly operated by a flight school based at Miami-Homestead General Aviation Airport (X51) and FlightAware records show multiple local flights in the preceding days, including two local flights on Monday morning and afternoon. But there is no record of a flight from X51 to FL31, a private field known as MJD with a 1,350-foot turf runway a few miles north of X51. AirNav lists the airport’s owner and manager with the initials MJD. He did not immediately return a call from AVweb.

[Update: The owner of the private, unlighted STOL airport contacted AVweb and confirmed that the Cessna did NOT depart from his runway. He said the confusion is likely due to its location 3.5 miles due north of X51. ADS-B tracking often does not start until an aircraft has climbed high enough, and he said he regularly sees inaccurate flight-tracking information involving his airport.]

Though the airplane crash-landed at approximately 4 a.m., authorities were not notified until around 10:30 by the flight school. After locating the downed Skyhawk, a Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter lowered a rescuer to the top of the Cessna. The pilot was harnessed to the rescuer and winched up to the helicopter. He was transported to a hospital where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries to his left leg.

Sheriff’s office fire chief Michael Kane told CBS News Miami: “To be able to seemingly walk away with just a leg injury after putting an aircraft down in the Everglades with the thick brush is an amazing feat in itself, and we’re very grateful that he’s OK.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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    • Since we now have ELT’s, ADS-B, GPS, and every pilot has (at least one) telephone/Internet access device on them: it’s rather hard to be “lost” these days. Honestly, anyone in the entire world could have searched and located this crash site with a few keystrokes. That’s “why” I don’t file vfr short hops.

      • An ELT in a submerged aircraft will not transmit. (Well, it might transmit, but the signal is not getting through the water).

          • Yes, because diving into a an airplane, submerged and sunken in muck in the Everglades, at night, and trying to unscrew the access panel to the empennage, behind the rear seat, then disconnect the ELT, and then exit the airplane, is easily done and very low on a risk management scale.

          • Maybe so, but when it is mounted in the way-back behind a bulkhead, and the plane is sinking or on fire, you probably don’t have time to crawl back and retrieve it.

  1. Tough to force people to file flight plans for shortish VFR flights. I know I probably won’t.

    Here’s a thought, if FlightAware indicated the “Cessna spiraled from an altitude of 2,000 feet to its landing spot”, maybe AI monitoring FlightAware could do a pretty decent job predicting potential crashes.

    • …or skip the extra step and just use raw ADS-B data – which is where FlightAware gets much of its input.

  2. I always begin my flights over swamp land and dense forests at 1am too. What could possibly go wrong here?

  3. Why do I keep thinking this can turn out to be a fuel exhaustion mishap ?
    And if it turns out to be a rental 172, I bet landing at FL 31 private turf strip was prohibited. As well as possible renters insurance prohibition upon the pilot himself / herself.
    Maybe at 3am he couldn’t find FL 31 in the dark and run the 172 dry.
    After all, he apparently didn’t even have a cell phone or couldn’t get a signal on one, as the flight school notified authorities the plane was ” missing ” some 6 to 7 hours later after the accident.
    Lots of unknowns here with this one…

  4. Quote: “According to FlightAware, the Cessna departed from FL31”
    On his flight to KOBE he departed from Homestead General X51 not FL31.
    Looking at data I see that he was climbing through 1,300ft as he passed FL31. ADS-B did not start displaying data until just before passing FL31. The FL31 deal, with its 1,350ft junk-yard runway, adds a nefarious element to the narrative. The FlightAware algorithm often gets departure / destination airports wrong. So much for AI.
    Can’t think of a good reason to be fly’n over the swamp at oh-dark-thirty. Must’a been a long night sit’n on the wing in the swamp. Yup . . . bet’n on lack-a-fuel.

    • “adds a nefarious element to the narrative.”

      Ya Think!

      Might need some other “government agencies” to investigate this one.

    • Yeah, it’s definitely a mistake. Looking at old aerial images going back a few decades, I’d say FL31 has been derelict for quite a while. There’s no way anyone’s operating out of there anymore with all of the trailers, vehicles and junk surrounding the runway, and looking at images of it in its former glory show what appears to be a fairly respectable private strip when it was being used as one.

  5. Okay I just looked at that private strip on Google Maps. I could barely find it it. Then one of the commenters above said something about a “junkyard runway”. I’m no stranger to landing on private strips but I sure hope some of that junk was moved a little farther from the “centerline” of that strip. I’d say he had stones just for taking off from that runway period much less taking off at 3 in the blessed AM. Lots of dense foliage around that runway. Anyone know what weed looks like on a satellite photo because I’m not sure.

  6. I carry a green laser pointer for this very reason. It’s pitch black out there. Alligator and mosquito invested part of the Everglades. Yep, pointing a laser at an aircraft is against the law, but I’d rather spend the night in a warm jail cell than with the natures death sentence. He was very, very lucky not only to survive the crash, but to survive the night.

  7. I have occasionally been at KOBE after midnight and often observed South Florida flight school Skyhawks and other models lined up at the self-serve pump with almost exclusively foreign students milling around. It may just be easier to schedule time building commercial rating flights late at night at busy schools and then there are the mandatory night flights for private, etc. Not denying Okeechobee County has a long history as a destination for drug smuggling flights from South America with complacent or actively corrupt law-enforcement looking the other way… but I think this particular scenario is innocent.