Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Divers salvage crashed airplane


October 30, 2007

The flight that Vincent "Mark" Molina started in his vintage airplane Wednesday finally ended on dry land last night as Molina and friends and members of a salvage team cheered and clapped.

Working for several hours Monday afternoon, Molina and a professional salvage team headed by Kerry Dillon carefully secured the plane's fuselage and painstakingly hoisted it out of the water at the site of what used to be the Northside Marina west of the Roosevelt Bridge.

It took several hours to tow the plane just under the surface of the water from the site where it crashed Wednesday behind Martin Memorial Medical Center, to a slip in the marina where a crane could lift it to the dock.

It was gently lifted into place on its landing gear. Water and a mixture of oil and grease dripped off the fuselage as Molina examined the cockpit for damage.

It will be placed on a flatbed trailer today and towed to the St. Lucie International Airport in Fort Pierce.

The 1946 Ercoupe 415-C plane lost power about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and Molina, 54, of Fort Pierce, and passenger Gary Hirsch, 62, of Port St. Lucie, chose to crash it in the water to avoid injuring others on land.

The plane flipped over when the landing gear hit water, but the men escaped relatively uninjured because it had an open cockpit. A local fisherman picked them up and threw over a crab trap to mark where the plane sank in about 7 feet of water.

On Sunday, the second of the plane's two wings was brought up to make it easier to surface the fuselage.

Despite the dramatic crash and having to foot the bill to salvage his plane, Molina has remained upbeat about the whole experience.

He said Monday he was fortunate to apply extensive corrosion proofing to the aluminum plane a week before the crash. The proofing was meant to protect the plane from the sea air, but it has helped preserve the body and wings underwater.



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