Sea Flight Aircraft Crashes Into Caribbean Sea Minutes After Takeoff On St. Thomas
CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating to see if a faulty engine or pilot error is the reason a Sea Flight commuter plane crash landed just minutes after takeoff from the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas.
Sea Flight #394SF with seven passengers and one pilot aboard made an “emergency landing” in the Caribbean Sea about 9 a.m. Thursday, about two miles off the coast of St. Thomas, according to a text message alert broadcast by the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency.
No one aboard the St. Croix-bound flight was injured, according to VITEMA. The aircraft was scheduled to depart CEK at 8:50 a.m.
All eight survivors were eventually transported to safety via a U.S. Coast Guard rescue boat to a dock area at the University of the Virgin Islands’ St. Thomas campus.
Donald Lewis, owner and president of Sea Flight, told the Virgin Islands Consortium on Thursday that the engine of the Cessna 208 B failed just minutes into the flight.
According to the FAA, Cessna 208B is a single-engine turbo-prop, in this instance outfitted with floats for water landings.
Lewis said that by late Thursday afternoon, the FAA had launched an automatic investigation into the incident. The plane’s pilot was contacted, but declined to comment because of the pending FAA investigation.
Sea Flight operates two aircraft between St. Thomas and St. Croix. One plane was previously out of service due to engine problems. Thursday’s incident puts its second airplane out of operation, Lewis indicated.
Phone and email messages left for VITEMA throughout the day went unanswered.
Governor Albert Bryan, Jr., for his part, praised the errant pilot and first responders in a written statement released on Thursday.
“Being involved in an aviation incident is a traumatic experience,” Bryan said. “Our thoughts this morning are with the seven passengers and crew of flight 394SF, and with their loved ones.”
“We are especially grateful for the heroic efforts of the pilot for safely landing the aircraft and for the swift response of our first responders and that of the members of the St. Thomas boating community. We have set up an incident command and triage station and have tended to the needs of the passengers who have subsequently been released.”
But not everyone was as easily impressed with Sea Flight’s questionable record of service to the territory.
“It was the scariest flight I have ever survived — and maybe the shortest — flying St. Croix to St. Thomas,” one Virgin Islands Free Press reader said. “It looks like a seaplane but lands on the runway, or it is supposed to, anyway. I was not impressed with the pilot and his disheveled uniform and the plane itself is the clunkiest I have ever seen. I have never flown them again after that rocky flight — nor will I ever again.”