Mary Helen Moore, Treasure Coast Newspapers
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The pilot of a small plane that crashed Tuesday in a wooded area near Interstate 95 is dead, a fire rescue official confirmed.
It took hours for first responders to reach the heavily damaged plane, which was deep in the woods south of Vero Lake Estates.
The pilot, whose name has not yet been revealed, was the only person aboard, said Battalion Chief Kyle Kofke, with Indian River County Fire Rescue.
“We did suffer a tragic loss at FlightSafety Academy this morning,” said Steve Phillips, vice president of communications at FlightSafety International.
“It was one of our students who was on a solo training flight. We have reached out to the family expressing our condolences. … We told them, whatever they need, just let us know.”
The plane took off Tuesday morning from Vero Beach Regional Airport for Palm Beach County Glades Airport in Pahokee, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Air Force reported losing contact with the plane about 11:30 a.m. in the area, said Maj. Eric Flowers, with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office launched its helicopter as deputies and fire officials searched the brush.
The helicopter pilot spotted the plane, a Piper PA-28 Cherokee, about 1 p.m. It was a mile and a half south of Vero Lake Estates, east of the interstate, Flowers said.
The Florida Forest Service sent two plows to clear a path to the crash site, as fire engines staged nearby, at 90th Avenue and 77th Street.
The FAA, which arrived on scene about 2:30 p.m., will investigate the crash, and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine its cause.
Phillips said FlightSafety International, which operates a flight training school at the Vero Beach airport, is working closely with investigators.
Flowers said they were working Tuesday afternoon to notify the pilot’s relatives.