MIAMI — The search for the pilot and passenger of a plane that was reported missing this week has been suspended after Monroe County sheriff’s divers found a section of the aircraft in the water off the Florida Keys.
The divers located the piece of the Vans RV-12 single engine plane about 17 miles due south of Sugarloaf Key, in the Lower Keys, said Capt. David Dipre of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, one of the several agencies involved in the search.
“Having located the debris, the search and rescue has now become a recovery effort for all agencies involved,” Dipre said in a statement Friday.
A U.S. Coast Guard air crew earlier in the week located an oil slick in the water and asked the sheriff’s office to have its dive team search the area, sheriff’s office spokesman Adam Linhardt said.
The National Transportation Safety Board is now the lead agency investigating the crash, Dipre said. He added that further recovery efforts would resume Tuesday, depending on weather conditions.
“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will work to coordinate efforts and provide all assistance needed to the NTSB as they conduct their investigation,” Dipre said.
The FWC is a state police agency with multiple roles, including enforcing conservation law, marine patrol, wildlife management and investigating boating accidents on the water.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it informed local authorities Tuesday that the plane disappeared. The plane departed from Palm Beach County Park Airport near Lantana “with a possible destination of Key West.” Law enforcement sources say the plane took off on Sunday.
The FAA, in its statement, said Palm Beach County Park Airport does not have an air traffic control tower, and the pilot did not file a flight plan.
The pilot of the plane is Thomas Campana, 37, and the passenger is Alexandra Tufo, 36, her sister Lana Tufo, told the Miami Herald on Thursday.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Alexandra Tufo and Thomas Campana,” Cmdr. Lindsey Seniuk, search and rescue mission coordinator for Coast Guard District 7, said in a statement. “This was a challenging case and it made the decision to suspend that much harder after our partners found the debris field. The MCSO divers are the experts in this new phase of the search, and our crews will be ready if our assistance is requested.”
According to the FAA’s pilot database, Campana received his sport pilot’s certificate in January. A sport pilot certification allows a pilot to fly light sport aircraft without an FAA medical certificate, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Campana owned the plane, according to FAA records.
The Miami Herald was unable to reach Campana’s family and friends for comment.
Lana Tufo said her sister’s colleagues at a New York-based investment firm were the ones who called the Coast Guard to report her missing after she didn’t return to work on Tuesday. They were aware of her planned flight to the Keys.
”For now I’m grieving my sister, who was my best friend and my ‘twin born two years earlier’ as she called herself. A part of my soul went down with that plane,” Lana Tufo wrote in a Facebook post.
(Miami Herald staff writer Omar Rodriguez Ortiz contributed to this report.)