Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Public safety

Searchers find body, but suspend search for missing plane near Cedar Key

BROOKSVILLE — Rescue crews suspended their search at sunset Tuesday evening for a family that went missing in an airplane on Sunday while flying over the Gulf of Mexico south of Cedar Key, according to the Coast Guard.

The two-day search yielded a body on Tuesday, though officials said it was not yet clear if it belonged to one of the plane's three occupants. Searchers on Monday also found some debris that they believe came from inside the cockpit of the Piper Cherokee.

But no parts of the plane itself have been found.

"It is with a heavy heart and our deepest condolences that we make the decision to suspend the search this evening," said a statement from Capt. Holly Najarian, commander of the Coast Guard's base in St. Petersburg.

On Sunday morning, 65-year-old Jasper Jerrels, his 17-year-old son and his fiance, 60-year-old Hue Singletary took off from Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport bound for Cedar Key for lunch, Coast Guard officials said. The plane last appeared on radar about 7 miles south of the island at 11:06 a.m. Sunday, according to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

Hours later someone contacted the Gainesville flight service station, a Federal Aviation Administration office that provides information and flight planning services to pilots, to alert officials about the plane's absence. At 5:21 p.m. Sunday, officials in Gainesville contacted the Coast Guard in St. Petersburg, which launched a search of the surrounding waters.

By Monday morning, crews located a small debris field near where the plane dropped off radar. Included in the field was a seat cushion, a headset and a flight manual, Coast Guard officials said.

On Tuesday, officials said a Coast Guard helicopter crew spotted a body in the vicinity of the debris field. The body was retrieved by boat and taken to Cedar Key and will be identified by the medical examiner. Coast Guard officials did not release any details about the body, including the gender or age of the person found.

The search area started at 150 square nautical miles and was expanded to more than 2,000 square nautical miles. There were more than 30 individual searches totaling more than 50 hours.

No flight plan was filed for the flight and none was required. If one had been filed, officials could have known sooner the plane didn't make it to Cedar Key.

Coast Guard officials confirmed rescuers have not detected a signal from an emergency locator transmitter, a device commonly found aboard small, general aviation aircraft that sends a distress call in the event of a hard landing or crash.

There were also no emergency calls from the plane over the radio.

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @josh_solomon15.

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