ABC News has reported that divers have located the fuselage of a plane that was involved in a mid-air collision on Sunday. The discovery came after the San Francisco Police Department scanned the area of San Francisco Bay where the plane was believed to have crashed. They did not locate the wreckage until 4 p.m. on Tuesday.
According to the United States Department of Transportation, there were only 12 pilot-reported instances of near mid-air collisions in 2012, the most recent statistic available, so it would seem that the occurrence is extremely rare.
If that’s the case, what went on over San Francisco Bay to cause such a horrible accident?
CBS San Francisco reported that the collision occurred on Sunday afternoon, close to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
According to the Minnesota Star Tribune, Howard Plagen, the lead investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said that the collision occurred when the pilot of a vintage Hawker Sea Fury TMK 20 attempted a passing maneuver alongside a travelling companion who was flying a Cessna 210.
Plagen interviewed the pilot of the Sea Fury, and he said the pilot recounted hearing a “thump” after pulling up to the left side of the Cessna. After that, the pilot focused on landing his own plane safely. He said he did not see the moment when the Cessna crashed, but he did see the plane going down.
John Cox, who is CEO of the Safety Operating Systems firm and who just happens to have 44 years of piloting experience, told the Associated Press that pilots should maintain a distance of at least a few hundred feet from other planes, if they aren’t flying in formation, according to the Tribune. Because the Sea Fury was the overtaking plane, it was responsible for maintaining separation, Cox said.
According to NBC Bay Area, the two people aboard the Sea Fury, husband and wife, landed safely and needed no medical treatment. Their names have not been released.
According to ABC News, witnesses at the Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor said that they saw the Cessna get hit and then spiral out of control, eventually landing in the water below.
Bonny Dunn, a mechanic who works for Southwest at the Oakland International Airport, told NBC Bay Area that she thought the two planes were showing off for onlookers, but she quickly realized that wasn’t the case.
“The next thing I know, I see the Cessna spiraling down. It’s like watching somebody die in front of you. You know there is no possible way you can survive,” she said.
One witness even reported that he saw what kind of damage the Cessna suffered. Philip Fritz, along with Noble Griswold, saw the collision take place.
“The Cessna went directly up into the air and it sustained what looked like you just took a saw straight down through the right wing,” Fritz said.
He and Griswold were among the first to the scene of the crash, according to NBC Bay Area.
NBC Bay Area reported that the fuselage wreckage was found submerged in about 13 feet of water, approximately 1.5 miles away from the Richland shoreline, along with various items belonging to the pilot. Officials did not tell the news outlet exactly what condition the plane was in, but they did say that it’s possible the wreckage is in several pieces.
The report went on to say that the pilot of the Cessna has not been located, but the Coast Guard has determined his identity, though spokesman Lt. Joshua Dykman said that information won’t be released to the public until the pilot’s family has been contacted.
For now, the fate of the Cessna pilot remains unclear. Jimmy Lee, spokesman for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office, told CBS San Francisco that a salvage operation is scheduled for Wednesday, which may shed more light on the status of the lost pilot.