Miami-Dade police identified the two men killed when their helicopter crashed shortly after departing Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport on a maintenance test flight Wednesday afternoon.
Mark Palmieri, the 53-year-old pilot, and Ross Allan, a 53-year-old Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department Air Rescue Bureau pilot, were killed Wednesday afternoon when the Robinson R44 helicopter crashed in a parking lot at 128th Street and SW 122nd Avenue about two miles from the airport.
Authorities said the helicopter started to fall apart in the air and the tail rotor came off before the crash -- about 150 yards from where it hit the ground. When it crashed, the chopper burst into flames.
There were no injuries on the ground.
Ross was hired as an aircraft technician in September of 1996 and became a helicopter co-pilot in March of 2007, according to the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department.
"He will be sorely missed by all MDFR members especially those at the Air Rescue Bureau who remain shocked by this tragic and unexpected loss," Fire Chief Dave Downey said Thursday in a statement. "His family asks for privacy during these trying times."
"I thought he'd be my partner until I was ready to hang it all up. He was just the greatest guy in the world," said MDFR Commander Guy Diaz.
Diaz said Allan's wife often joked about his love for flying.
"She was jealous of his love of helicopters. He lived in it -- he lived for it," he added. "He was the helicopter mechanic when he first met her 26 years ago, so it's a big loss for her."
"He was a fun-loving guy. He was a professional," said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Special Operations Chief Ray Barreto. "He was engaging. He was part of the family. He's going to be sorely missed."
One witness reported seeing multiple birds in the air, Local 10's Terrell Forney reported. National Transportation Safety Board investigators combed the area looking for dead birds but so far have not found anything.
"The initial report that I got that there were birds in the area and there was a problem with the tail rudders," said Patrick Murray with NTSB.
Witnesses are urged to report bird sightings or any other information to witness@NTSB.Gov.