SARASOTA -- The 9-year-old girl who was critically injured in a Venice plane crash while walking with her father died Monday night as a result of her injuries.
Meanwhile, the pilot in the crash issued a statement Tuesday afternoon in which he said the private plane’s engine had failed, and that he had not see anyone on the beach when he came in for an emergency landing.
Ommy Irizarry was killed immediately after the plane crashed on Caspersen Beach at 2:45 p.m. Sunday. His daughter, Oceana, died at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg at 9:30 p.m. Monday, according to the medical examiner’s office that covers Pinellas and Pasco counties.
Sunday was Ommy and his wife Rebecca’s ninth wedding anniversary.
The family released a statement on Tuesday morning, saying, “There are no words to describe the suffering we are experiencing.” They thanked all the medical personnel who helped them both on the beach and in local hospitals.
“Our precious Oceana has joined her daddy in heaven. She was nine years old. Oceana was a beautiful, intelligent and kind-hearted little girl,” the release said. “She was a natural artist who loved to learn. She was looking forward to the 4th grade.”
The release described Ommy, a 36-year-old Army sergeant, as a “beloved husband, father, son, brother, friend and soldier. He lit up the room whenever he entered and was devoted to his family.”
About 2:45 p.m. Sunday, Venice Municipal Airport contacted the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office about a small 1972 Piper Cherokee plane in distress that could not make it back to the airport. The pilot, 57-year-old engineer Karl Kokomoor of Englewood, was trying to land on the beach. Kokomoor and his passenger, David Theen, 60, were unhurt in the crash.
On Tuesday afternoon at Englewood United Methodist Church in Englewood, Pastor Victor Willis met with the media to read a statement written by Kokomoor, who was described as emotionally distraught and devastated. Kokomoor was not present, but his wife Susan and daughter Erin Clemens were.
In his statement, Kokomoor said, “Words cannot express the sorrow I feel over the loss of Ommy Irizarry, this father and soldier, and his beautiful daughter, Oceana. I send my heartfelt apologies to the Irizarry family for my role in this tragic accident, and I will keep Rebecca Irizarry and her family in my prayers for as long as I live.”
As Willis read the statement, Kokomoor’s daughter held onto her mother, who was holding back tears.
Kokomoor said he and his neighbor Theen were on a short sightseeing flight when the engine failed. He tried to restart it, and when that didn’t work he looked for a spot to make an emergency landing.
“There was little time to make the decision,” he said. “The beach ahead looked remote and far from the more active area to the north.”
Kokomoor said he didn’t see anyone on the beach when he was landing and only realized there were people there after he and Theen had exited the plane.
“I never saw them,” he said. “I am deeply, deeply sorry.”
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the crash.
Irizarry and his daughter were about 50 yards south of the plane, according to the incident report.
NTSB spokesman Terry Williams said the aircraft has been moved to a secure location and that an NTSB official will conduct a thorough investigation next week with the assistance of Piper, the aircraft manufacturer, and Lycoming, the engine manufacturer. Williams would not specify where the aircraft has been moved.
“We’re not saying that there is anything wrong with the aircraft,” he said Tuesday. “We’re still in the early stages of the investigation — that’s a standard part of our investigation.”
Williams said Kokomoor has been interviewed and may be interviewed a second time, though the NTSB is not releasing that information at this time. There are also statements from several witnesses, he said.
“At this point, we’re still in the early stages of the investigation,” Williams said.
Some have wondered why Irizarry didn’t hear the plane coming and get out of the way in time, but David Esser, professor of Aeronautical Science at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, said a dead engine would have rendered the plane basically silent.
“Pilots call the sound of engine failure a ‘deafening silence,’” Esser said.
Esser said engine failure is the most likely reason for a crash landing in this case, where the plane only had one engine.
“Another option is pilot incapacitation, but (the pilot) was uninjured, so that’s probably not the case here,” he said.
Esser said the way the propellers are bent will make it obvious to investigators whether or not the engine failed, because propellers that hit the ground while being turned by the engine versus without the engine are bent differently.
If the aircraft was only being flown for private use and not paid flights, then it’s only subject to an annual inspection, according to Esser.