Cargo plane ditches in lake in Miami suburb; pilots climb to safety

Saturday, December 4th 2004, 10:33 am
By: News On 6

AVENTURA, Fla. (AP) _ A decades-old cargo plane went down in a lake in a Miami suburb Saturday, but the pilot and co-pilot climbed onto the fuselage and were plucked to safety by rescuers.

The Miami Air Lease plane _ with the words ``Eelect (sic) George W. Bush'' running the length of the fuselage _ had trouble with one of its two engines shortly after takeoff, said company office manager Alina Nodarse.

The pilots tried to return the Convair CV-340 to the Opa-locka airport about seven miles away but couldn't make it and splashed down in Mall Lake, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Chris White. The lake is surrounded by condominium towers.

``They landed there like that to avoid the buildings,'' Nodarse said after the rescued pilots checked in by phone.

Pilot Alejandro Bristol and co-pilot Dennis Villavicencio climbed onto the fuselage, and one of them walked the length of the plane before being rescued by boat. The Coast Guard responded along with local police and fire crews.

Nodarse said both pilots are experienced and have been with the 35-year-old, family-owned cargo carrier for many years. Nodarse said the family is Republican and the pro-Bush message was painted on shortly before the election.

Half of the fuselage and the tips of the propellers were sticking out of the water minutes after the crash landing and pleasure boaters began to gather around.

Boat crews planned to surround the plane with an inflatable dike to contain any leaking oil. Trapped air was keeping the plane afloat, and emergency crews hoped to keep it from sinking by propping it up with air bags.

Nodarse believed the plane was carrying a load of luggage to Nassau, Bahamas. Convairs began flying in the 1940s.