A man was killed and five other people were taken to the hospital after, investigators said, a small plane crashed on the Haulover Inlet Bridge, hitting an SUV with a woman and two children inside.
Miami-Dade Police and Fire Rescue units responded to the scene of the crash near the 10800 block of Collins Avenue, on the bridge, just before 1 p.m., Saturday.
7Skyforce hovered over the scene where the single-engine Cessna 172 crashed. The red SUV that was struck by the aircraft was also seen on the bridge, its front end destroyed.
Calls to 911 dispatchers poured in.
“Attention, in reference to a small plane crash into a bridge,” said a dispatcher.
Officials said there were three people on board the Cessna.
Responding police officers found the two occupants of the plane who had been able to get out. Inside the aircraft, officers found one person dead.
Saturday night, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association identified the deceased victim as Narciso Torres, a veteran air traffic controller at the Miami International Airport.
#TRAFFIC ALERT: Due to a plane crash on the Haulover Inlet Bridge, Collins Avenue between 96 and 163 Street is currently closed. Expect heavy traffic delays and seek alternate routes. pic.twitter.com/gevmpRHveT
— Miami-Dade Police (@MiamiDadePD) May 14, 2022
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the aircraft took off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport headed for Key West and lost engine power soon after takeoff.
Police said the SUV involved was traveling southbound over the bridge when the Cessna hit it head on, causing the plane to flip over and burst into flames.
Someone who was driving by recorded cellphone video of the woman inside the SUV as she jumped out and pulled her two toddlers from the mangled SUV.
Speaking with reporters hours later, MDPD detective Alvaro Zabaleta addressed the collision.
“It is miraculous that you’re traveling in a vehicle, the driver with the two toddlers, and you’re in a head-on collision with an aircraft, and everybody’s OK,” he said.
Tony Menendez with Wavy Boats said he was recording video of vessels coming in an out of the Haulover Inlet when the small plane fell out of the sky.
“A plane came down and crashed into a vehicle on the freeway over here,” he said. “You see the plane hits, it rolled over, and then immediately you see black smoke and fire right after it.”
Witnesses in nearby Sunny Isles Beach said they knew something was wrong when they saw the Cessna flying dangerously close to the bridge.
“It didn’t look normal. I’ve never seen a plane fly that low to the neighborhood,” said witness Stan Staffon.
Phil Gillen said he was watching the Cessna from the Haulover Marina.
“Flying that plane really low, about 500 feet,” he said.
Witnesses kept an eye on the plane as it circled lower and lower.
“Down lower again, and next thing we heard is, we heard it just landed on top of the bridge and possibly hit a car,” said Gillen.
“I just happened to look over, and just then, there was a giant ball of fire and a tremendous amount of smoke,” said Staffon.
“We all ran out, and we just saw a big ball of smoke,” said Gillen.
A witness on the bridge captured people running toward the wreckage to help.
“It was pretty much totally engulfed. I mean, you could feel the heat from maybe 30 yards away,” said witness Tony Selvaggio.
“We saw smoke, fire trucks going down Bal Harbour. The police were shutting off northbound routes,” said another witness.
Firefighters immediately began assessing and treating patients while they worked to put out the flames.
7Skyforce captured crews using foam to knock down the fire.
Police said another vehicle traveling northbound during the moment of impact was clipped in the back.
MDFR spokesperson Erika Benitez provided details on the surviving victims.
“Two of them were on the aircraft and suffered traumatic injuries and were transported to local trauma centers,” she said.
One of these victims was airlifted to Ryder Trauma Center, and the other was transported to Aventura Hospital as a trauma alert.
Police said the woman and children who were inside the SUV were taken to an area hospital as a precaution.
Outside Jackson Memorial Hospital, a woman said she is connected to one of the crash victims but was too emotional to speak on camera. Other loved ones showed up in search of information.
In a statement issued Saturday night, a spokesperson for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association described Torres as a “veteran Miami Airport Traffic Control Tower controller and devoted Union member.”
The statement said Torres “served as NATCA’s local facility representative at [Miami International Airport] since Oct. 1, 2019 and worked as an air traffic controller at MIA since June 2015.” The statement said he began his FAA career in 2008 at Orlando International Airport.
In the statement, NATCA President Rich Santa said, “Narciso touched so many people with his warmth and kindness, both within NATCA, in the facilities he worked, and in every interaction he had.”
Santa went on to say, “Narciso had such a deep love of all things aviation, and of flying, as evidenced by this flight on a beautiful South Florida day where he was doing what he loved. This loss hurts so deeply. Narciso will never be forgotten.”
The crash led authorities to shut down Collins Avenue from 96th Street to 163rd Street. Marine traffic was redirected away from the sandbar by the area of the crash.
The closures caused considerable traffic congestion. People who were in Sunny Isles Beach earlier in the day said they were unable to leave.
The roadway remained closed for hours while investigators gathered evidence and worked to clear the bridge. Just before 11 p.m., police confirmed the bridge has reopened to traffic in both directions.
As of late Saturday night, investigators have not released the names of the surviving victims.
The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation with the FAA. Miami-Dade Police are investigating the death in the crash.