VENICE, Fla. (AP) — The bodies of two men and two women have been recovered following a small plane crash just off Florida’s Gulf Coast, police said Thursday.
The plane had just taken off from Venice Airport when it crashed into the Gulf of Mexico west of the city’s fishing pier just after 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Venice police said in a news conference.
Several people on the pier saw the plane crash and called 911, Venice police Capt. Andy Leisenring said. In addition video footage from the airport and the pier will be reviewed and turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board, which is conducting an investigation, he said.
Leisenring said police “were unable to deploy a dive team until we had daylight.” The plane — a Piper PA-32R — was spotted just before noon under about 23 feet of water, he said. Crews also found the bodies of the two female passengers.
Authorities identified the victims as William Jeffrey Lumpkin, 64, who was piloting the plane, Patricia Lumpkin, 68, Ricky Joe Beaver, 60, and Elizabeth Anne Beaver, 57. The Lumpkins were from Fishers, Indiana, and the Beavers were from Noblesville, Indiana. The four were the only passengers of the plane, police said.
Leisenring said the two couples left St. Petersburg and flew to Venice around 5 p.m. Wednesday. They parked the plane at the airport and had dinner with friends at a restaurant on the pier. They returned to the airport after 9 p.m. and crashed shortly after 9:30 p.m.
Crews from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Coast Guard were continuing to search the debris field Thursday morning.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board have been notified.
Venice is about 58 miles (93 kilometers) south of St. Petersburg on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
A family of three — a couple and their daughter — died in a similar crash off Venice in December.
Leisenring called it “unusual” to have two plane crashes occur in that short period of time but said it was too early to conclude whether or not there was a connection between them.