- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The wing that fell off a seaplane before it crashed, killing all 20 persons on board, had cracks in the main support beam that probably had gone unseen for a long time, federal investigators said yesterday.

Mark V. Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), stopped short of saying that the cracking was the sole reason the right wing fell off the 58-year-old plane Monday shortly after it took off for the Bahamas.

But Mr. Rosenker said at a press conference that the cracking should have been found and repaired, although it would have taken “a very serious” inspection to find it.

The Chalk’s Ocean Airways plane plummeted into the Government Cut channel off the southern tip of Miami Beach in front of horrified beachgoers.

The cracks were in the main support beam that connected the wing to the fuselage. Mr. Rosenker said that if Chalk’s officials had known about the cracking, “they would have repaired it, and we wouldn’t be here today. I don’t think they knew it.”

The propeller and engine were still attached when salvage crews raised the right wing from the channel Tuesday. Crews began raising the rest of the plane from 35 feet of water yesterday, and Mr. Rosenker said inspectors will examine closely the remaining part of the support beam.

The salvagers will use balloons to float the plane’s fuselage to the surface slowly to avoid damaging it further, said Coast Guard spokesman Dana Warr.

Investigators also planned to scour maintenance and flight records for evidence of work done on the plane.

Mr. Rosenker said the plane’s age could have been a factor in the cracking. The plane was retrofitted in the 1980s with more powerful engines, but it wasn’t clear what role, if any, that played in the cracking, he said.

Chalk’s officials had no comment yesterday.

Mr. Rosenker said the NTSB will have discussions with the Federal Aviation Administration and Chalk’s about whether to ground its remaining four Grumman G-73T Turbine Mallards. He said other U.S. and foreign operators also fly the plane, but he wasn’t sure how many are in operation.

The Coast Guard is hoping to get the Port of Miami fully operational soon after the salvage work is complete. Access to the port was closed again Wednesday so that the salvage operation could continue.

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