Grief, questions at plane crash victims' flight school

By Brittany Jones, Flagler County Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, July 17, 2017, 11:58 PM EDT

A medical examiner is expected to release the names of the two people who were killed in Flagler County in a plane crash near Marineland on Friday.

On Monday, grief counselors went out to Sunrise Aviation School to talk to those impacted by the tragedy.

"We're all grieving and that never really stops," said Patrick Murphy, school general manager.

Murphy said they train students from ground school to they take their first flights in the air. The school has produced thousands of pilots since 1983, but Murphy said this incident was Sunrise Aviation School's first tragic accident.

"This is new for us. Talking to all the students today, helping them through the process of grieving, but also trying to access when they want to get back on track and start flying again," said Murphy.

Students didn't fly Monday and Murphy wasn't sure they'd be comfortable flying again -- it could be days.

Students from different countries spend at least 250 hours with the school to learn how to fly.

Investigators said their small twin engine Piper PA44 crashed last week near Marineland as they headed back to Ormond Beach from St Simons Island in Georgia.

"They had already gone successfully to the destination. They were coming back, cruising at about 6,000 feet, and the plane went missing. As it begins its descend for a landing here, no other reported problems, or emergency broadcast by the crew that's unsustainable," said Murphy.

Murphy said the local instructor had been working at the school for years and was one of the best. And the student, like many, came from Saudi Arabia to be trained.

Murphy said one of the best things for him is to see their students grow and become mature pilots and each student spends a year and more with them.

"The company is grieving along with the students, along with our instructors. We're anxious just like everyone else because this is an unusual way. The airplane was in cruise flight and something happened and that's not normal," said Murphy.

According Murphy and FAA records, Sunrise has owned the plane since December 2016 but it was built in 1979. Murphy said the company services the planes once a year or every 100 flight hours, so the plane that went down was in good shape.

He said this was an end to a 30+ year career for the instructor. The student was on one of his last missions, nearing the end to get his certification.

"Everyone is devastated quite shattered by that because we're all close. There's never a good time but that makes it even more unfortunate," said Murphy.

The plane wreckage was taken to Jacksonville to be reviewed. 

The school said it's also checking its systems and aircrafts to make sure they're up to FAA and industry standards.

"We're in the process of helping both of the families. We'll figure out a way to move beyond it and figure out to help our students and our instructors move beyond it as well," said Murphy.