FROSTPROOF — A couple and their four children were killed Thursday when their single-engine plane came apart and crashed in a remote, wooded area of Polk County.
Five bodies were recovered at the crash site. One — believed to be a 13-year-old boy — remained missing Thursday night, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Judd said the missing child may have been ejected from the plane as it was tearing apart while airborne.
The five bodies recovered were all in the aircraft, but there was a large hole in the plane near at least one of the seats. Deputies searched the debris field Thursday trying to find the body of the fourth child and planned to continue the search this morning.
"We are looking for this child as if it was our child," Judd said.
The pilot was Ronald Bramlage, 45, a Kansas businessman, deputies said. His wife is Rebecca Bramlage, 43, and their four children were identified as Brandon, Boston, Beau and Roxanne. They ranged in age from 15 to 8.
Ronald Bramlage was a Kansas philanthropist from a prominent family with ties to Kansas State University, where the basketball arena is named after his grandfather. Rebecca Bramlage was the president of the Junction City Board of Education.
The Federal Aviation Administration lists Bramlage's company, Roadside Ventures, as the aircraft's owner.
"It's just a horrific loss," said Pat Landes, mayor of Junction City, Kan., where the family lived.
Landes said the couple supported local projects and provided college scholarships. Outside their home Thursday, dozens of flower bouquets were weaved through the black wrought-iron fence surrounding the property.
The crash occurred about 12:30 p.m. in a palmetto-covered clearing in the Tiger Creek Preserve, northeast of Frostproof, Judd said.
The plane, a 12-seat Pilatus PC-12/47 turbo prop, left Treasure Cay Airport in the Abaco Islands, Bahamas, on Thursday morning, according to the Sheriff's Office. It stopped at the St. Lucie County International Airport in Fort Pierce to clear customs and took off again at 12:05 p.m., headed for Kansas.
Trouble apparently began at an altitude of 26,000 feet as it neared Lake Wales, Judd said.
"We don't know why the plane came apart in the air," he said. He said debris has been found up to 4 miles away.
Residents near the crash site told investigators they saw the plane tumbling in the air before the crash. There was a small fire at the crash site, Judd said, but it was quickly extinguished.
The plane's fuselage was broken in several places, and deputies placed blue tarps over other areas as it sat in the rural scrub habitat.
Judd said his crime scene teams were preserving the site for federal investigators. The FAA has been notified of the crash, along with the National Transportation Safety Board, which will conduct an investigation into the cause, Judd said.
Judd said the plane was previously used by one of the lawyers for Casey Anthony, and that Anthony rode on the plane several times. Anthony was acquitted of murdering her daughter in a Florida case that gained nationwide attention. Judd said the plane was later repossessed and sold to Bramlage.
Information from the Associated Press and Bay News 9 was used in this report.