MIAMI (CBSMiami) – In the Everglades, west of Homestead, a small plane could be seen from the air mangled in an apparent crash dive.
The scene is infused with alligators and accessible only by airboat.
The plane, a Cessna 152, was occupied by just the pilot who was apparently killed outright.
Mark Ukaere, from Nigeria, was an advanced student at Miami Executive Airport’s Dean Flight Training school, his fellow students told CBS4’s Gary Nelson. Ukaere did not have any family in South Florida.
The school’s owner, Robert Dean, said Ukaere took off in the plane Saturday night without telling anyone.
“He decided to go fly, himself,” said Dean. “He basically took the aircraft away from here without any authorization.”
Dean said Ukaere, who crashed into the Everglades muck, was well aware of rules against solo night flights.
“The individual is qualified to fly the aircraft, but he broke company policy. They are required to fly at night with two pilots on board,” Dean said.
The requirement is for good reason. Pilots not fully instrument-qualified can easily lose their bearings at night.
Ukaere, a licensed pilot, was working on getting his instrument rating.
“You go out there in the pitch dark and you basically have spatial disorientation,” Dean said. “So what happened is he took off and he went into what is basically called a black hole.”
Knowing the danger, why did the company not report the plane and its pilot missing for four days?
“In our minds, we thought that he had taken off and he was doing what is called a solo cross-country,” Dean said.
It was not until after the July 4th holiday, when Ukaere had not returned, and the plane couldn’t be located at any airport around the state, that the company reported it missing.
A Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter found it in the swamp hours later.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash. Miami-Dade homicide detectives are handling the death investigation.
Various local and federal agencies, as of Thursday afternoon, could not say what, if any, civil or criminal liability the company might face for the delay in reporting its aircraft missing.