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FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – A pilot involved in a small plane crash in the Everglades is in critical condition while his two passengers are out of the hospital and back in Jacksonville.

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Meantime, authorities are trying to find out what caused the crash.

“I do know him. I’ve personally flown with him for over 25 years. He’s a very meticulous pilot and safe pilot. I’m sure he can be credited with saving the lives of my two partners as well as his own,” said Barry Newman. “I’m anxious to hear him in person as soon as I can to find out what happened. We really don’t know anything at this point.”

The Piper Navajo, which took off from Jacksonville, was headed to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport with the three men on board when it crashed at 12:45 p.m. on Monday about 16 miles from its destination, near U.S. 27 just north of Griffin Road.

The twin-engine plane will be removed from the scene and investigators will make a determination what brought the plane down.

The two passengers, Steven Browning and Robert Spohrer, were able to make it out of the badly damaged aircraft on their own.

“I’m doing fine, uninjured. Doing great,” said Browning, as he left the hospital on Monday.

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However, six firefighters, using the Jaws of Life, had to cut the pilot, James Alexander Townsend, 63, from the wreck. He was airlifted to the hospital with serious injuries.

“His lower extremities, his legs were entangled underneath that cockpit,” said Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue’s Mike Jachles. “They (fire rescue) worked using hydraulic rescue tools. They worked to remove that cockpit from around his legs without aggravating his injuries.”

The plane which had broken in half midway down the fuselage, was spotted by Chopper4 which had been asked by tower operators in Fort Lauderdale to check for reports of a possible plane down.

Click here to view images of the wreck and rescue.

The plane is registered to Spohrer & Dodd Aviation LLC in Jacksonville. CBS4 spoke by phone with one of the partners at Spohrer & Dodd, a law firm that shares an address with the listed owner, who said the pilot’s skill saved all three lives.

Speaking about the pilot, attorney Robert Spohrer said “He is in ICU our concern is all about him.”

In a release from his law firm, Spohrer said the cause of the crash is unknown but he alluded to a problem leading up to the accident.

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“Prior to the crash an undetermined in-flight emergency developed requiring Mister Townsend to attempt an off-field landing in unforgiving terrain,” said Spohrer.