NORTH EAST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) – One man was killed and five others taken to the hospital after a small plane crashed on the Haulover Inlet Bridge and struck an SUV with a woman and two children inside, investigators said.
Miami-Dade Police and Fire Department responded to the accident site near the 10800 block of Collins Avenue on the bridge just before 1 p.m. Saturday.
7Skyforce hovered over the accident site of the single-engine Cessna 172. Also visible on the bridge was the red SUV that was hit by the plane, the front end of which was destroyed.
Calls to 911 dispatchers came in.
“Caution regarding a light aircraft crash into a bridge,” said a dispatcher.
Officials said there were three people on board the Cessna.
Intervening police officers found the two occupants of the plane, who were able to disembark. Officers found a dead person inside the plane.
On Saturday night, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association identified the deceased victim as Narciso Torres, a veteran air traffic controller at Miami International Airport.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the plane took off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport bound for Key West and lost engine power shortly after takeoff.
Police said the SUV involved was traveling south across the bridge when the Cessna crashed head-on, causing the plane to overturn and burst into flames.
Someone driving recorded cellphone video of the woman in the SUV as she jumped out and pulled her two toddlers out of the mangled SUV.
Hours later, MDPD detective Alvaro Zabaleta spoke to reporters about the collision.
“It’s a miracle that you’re in a vehicle, the driver with the two young children, and you’re in a head-on collision with an airplane, and everyone’s fine,” he said.
Wavy Boats’ Tony Menendez said he was capturing video of ships coming in and out of Haulover Inlet when the small plane fell out of the sky.
“A plane went down over here on the freeway and collided with a vehicle,” he said. “You see the plane impact, it flips over, and then immediately you see black smoke and fire right after that.”
Witnesses in nearby Sunny Isles Beach said they knew something was wrong when they saw the Cessna fly dangerously close to the bridge.
“It didn’t look normal. I’ve never seen an airplane fly that low into the neighborhood,” witness Stan Staffon said.
Phil Gillen said he was watching the Cessna from the Haulover Marina.
“Flying this plane really low, about 500 feet,” he said.
Witnesses kept an eye on the plane as it circled lower and lower.
“Deeper again and next we heard it just landed on the bridge and may have hit a car,” Gillen said.
“I happened to look over, and at that moment there was a huge ball of fire and a tremendous amount of smoke,” Staffon said.
“We all ran out and just saw a big ball of smoke,” Gillen said.
A witness on the bridge captured people running towards the wreck to help.
“It was pretty much totally gobbled up. I mean, you could feel the heat from maybe 30 meters away,” witness Tony Selvaggio said.
“We saw smoke and fire engines coming down Bal Harbour. Police closed routes northbound,” said another witness.
Firefighters immediately began examining and treating patients while they worked to put out the blaze.
7Skyforce captured crews using foam to put down the fire.
Police said another vehicle traveling northbound at the moment of impact was cut in the back.
MDFR spokeswoman Erika Benitez gave details of the surviving victims.
“Two of them were on the plane and sustained traumatic injuries and were transported to local trauma centers,” she said.
One of those victims was flown to the Ryder Trauma Center, the other being transported to Aventura Hospital as a trauma alert.
Police said the woman and children who were in the SUV were taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution.
Outside Jackson Memorial Hospital, a woman said she had a connection to one of the crash victims but was too emotional to speak on camera. Other relatives showed up looking for information.
In a statement released Saturday night, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association described Torres as “an experienced Miami Airport Traffic Control Tower air traffic controller and committed union member.”
The statement said Torres “served as a representative of NATCA’s local facility [Miami International Airport] since October 1, 2019 and as an air traffic controller with MIA since June 2015.” The statement said he began his FAA career in 2008 at Orlando International Airport.
In the statement, NATCA President Rich Santa said, “Narciso touched so many people with his warmth and kindness, both within NATCA, at the facilities where he worked, and in every interaction he had.”
Santa continued, “Narciso had such a deep love of aviation and flying, as evidenced by this flight on a beautiful day in South Florida doing what he loved. This loss hurts so deeply. Narciso will never be forgotten.”
The crash prompted authorities to close Collins Avenue from 96th Street to 163rd Street. Ship traffic was diverted away from the sandbar through the area of the crash.
The closures led to significant traffic delays. People who were in Sunny Isles Beach earlier in the day said they couldn’t go.
The roadway remained closed for hours while investigators gathered evidence and worked to clear the bridge. Shortly before 11 p.m., the police confirmed the bridge reopened to traffic in both directions.
As of late Saturday night, investigators had not released the names of the surviving victims.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation with the FAA. Miami-Dade Police are investigating the death in the crash.
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