Bahamian officials identify plane crash survivors

Survivors believed to have returned home to Miami

MIAMI – Bahamian officials on Friday identified three people who survived a plane crash Thursday off Bimini as Morel Trimpin Aldrich Reubens, who was the pilot, Joaquin Nova Sr. and Joaquin Nova Jr.

According to the Air Accident Investigation Department of The Bahamas, the survivors, who were the only people onboard the Piper PA-34 aircraft, returned home Thursday afternoon.

"Thank God for the miracle of being alive," Novoa Jr. said in a statement Friday to Local 10 News. "I want to thank the pilot for landing tail first. That saved us. I want to thank the fishermen from Key Largo for rescuing us out of the water. And thanks to everyone at Cat Cay and the Bahamian Police who attended to us. And big, huge thanks to Tropic Ocean for flying us back to Fort Lauderdale."

Recovery efforts are now underway to recover the small airplane from the water.

Officials said U.S. Coast Guard crews based in Miami responded to the site of the crash 20 miles east of Bimini, but a group of friends from the Florida Keys, who were on a fishing and diving trip, spotted the plane's yellow emergency life raft in the ocean and picked up the men.

"As we got closer, we realized it was a life raft, and we were pretty taken aback," Danny Hampson said.

Hampson's father, Tim, who was manning the 35-foot Contender center console, said they steered the boat closer to the raft to make contact with the three men sitting on it.

"It was crazy. We asked what happened and they said, 'Our plane just crashed,'" Tim Hampson said.

The Hampsons -- along with Mark Wheaton, Rick Suarez, Steve Oropeza and Allen Wood -- helped the three men aboard and gave them water.

They said the men told them they were from Miami and had been sitting on that raft for more than an hour.

"They were all kind of in shock. There were no bad injuries, thank god," Tim Hampson said. "They said the plane sunk in about a minute's time."

Officials said the three survivors were transferred to Bahamian authorities in Cat Cay before they returned home.

According to Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen, the small plane had departed from Great Harbour Cay Airport in The Bahamas and was flying to Miami Executive Airport when it crashed.

The Air Accident Investigation Department of The Bahamas is investigating the cause of the crash.

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