MIAMI -- The cover photo of Jafet Cordeiro’s Facebook page shows his gold-and-black trimmed Cessna Skyhawk parked on a non-descript runway.
On Tuesday, the plane rested in a much more scenic spot: behind a luxury condominium, just a few feet from the ocean, on a sun-drenched beach with a few wispy clouds overhead.
It was also surrounded by police tape, with dozens of curious onlookers snapping pictures on their cellphones.
Cordeiro had left Vero Beach Municipal Airport at 10:50 a.m. with three passengers and was headed to Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport. Just over an hour into the flight he felt the engine “hesitate,” and decided to land the aircraft instead of taking any chances.
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Cordeiro and friends Edward Blasini, his wife Marta Baptista, and another friend Elaine Hernandez, flew to Vero early Tuesday morning to have breakfast, and decided to take the “scenic” route home over Miami Beach. But before turning west toward Kendall-Tamiami, Cordeiro said he heard a strange noise coming from the engine.
Between shouts of “hold on” to his three passengers, Cordeiro nailed the landing, with the single-engine aircraft practically gliding to a halt on the beach behind the Arlen Beach condominium at 5701 Collins Ave., witnesses said.
Fortunately, no one was hurt on the plane or the beach. The plane came in slow enough for the few people doing some mid-week sunbathing to scatter.
The craft had no visible damage, and by mid-afternoon the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were already surveying the scene.
Small private planes have been raining from the skies in South and Southwest Florida the past few weeks — but with tragic results.
On Sunday, a man and his 9-year-old daughter were killed when a single-engine Piper aircraft attempted to land on the beach on Florida’s west coast near Sarasota. And, on July 20, a Coral Gables man was killed when the Cessna 172 Skyhawk he was piloting — the same model as in Tuesday’s landing — crashed into the ocean just east of Elliott Key in South Miami-Dade.
Surrounded by reporters Tuesday afternoon, Cordeiro, who piloted his Cessna to a picturesque landing, was cheered by a crowd. He said he found what he thought was the safest place to set his plane down. Cordeiro, an airplane mechanic by trade who flies weekly, said he’s been flying for three years and that this was his first emergency landing.
“I felt a little sad this had to happen. I saw this empty spot on the beach, I cut the power and I landed,” he said.
Cordeiro said he was well aware, even “spooked,” by Sunday’s tragedy near Sarasota. It’s the main reason, he said, he chose to quickly set the plane down on a relatively open section of the beach.
“I had it in my mind the whole time,” Cordeiro said.
Beachgoers praised Cordeiro, saying they never felt threatened by the plane.
“I fly all the time; it was incredible piloting,” said Cheryl Williams, a former flight attendant from St. Louis who was in the water when the four-seater landed. “He did a really good job, especially with the headwind.”
Anita Llano, who lives in the Arlen Beach condo, said the section of beach where Cordeiro landed is usually awash with sunbathers on the weekend. “He was lucky there weren’t a lot of people on the beach,” Llano said.
Aviation records show Cordeiro, 26, and who lives in West Miami-Dade, owns the 39-year-old Cessna 172 Skyhawk, one of the world’s most popular aircraft with more than 43,000 of them estimated to be flying today.
Jan Shakespeare, associate dean for aviation operations at Broward College, said Cordeiro did exactly as he was taught when he felt he was losing control of the aircraft.
“It’s part of the curriculum. If you’re flying in visual conditions you should be scanning the area, checking out roads, checking fields. It’s even practiced in simulation devices,” she said.
Cordeiro’s friend Edward Blasini said the group of four was just enjoying a rare, clear summer day in South Florida when the plane lost momentum.
“We were bracing for a rough landing; it really wasn’t,” Blasini said. “It’s a bummer. We’re stuck in the sand.”
Cordeiro said he is responsible for the plane’s safekeeping while it’s on the beach and for its removal. He locked up the propeller and plans to come back and take apart the wings so the body can be hauled away on a flatbed truck.
Last Sunday, a man and his 9-year-old daughter were struck by a single-engine Piper aircraft that was trying to make an emergency landing on Caspersen Beach in Venice, near Sarasota.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Ommy Irizarry, 36, who was stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia, died on the spot. His daughter Oceana Irizarry was airlifted to an area hospital in critical condition. She died Tuesday. Ommy and his wife Rebecca were celebrating their ninth anniversary when the accident happened. The FAA and NTSB are investigating.
An Aug. 20 accident involving another South Florida man and the same model aircraft that landed on Miami Beach on Tuesday, claimed the life of Ricardo Barboza, 52.
Barboza was flying a Cessna 172 Skyhawk owned by the Dean International flight school when he crashed into 10-feet of water just east of Elliott Key in South Miami-Dade. Rescuers found his body still in the cockpit. Boaters surrounding the island on a Sunday afternoon said Barboza crashed after doing a series of stunts like figure eights at odd angles. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating that incident.
The last similar beach landing to Tuesday’s was in 2001, when a 1960s vintage cargo plane crash-landed in Sunny Isles Beach. The twin-turboprop Convair 580 with a broken-off tail ended up half in the sand and half on the beach. The two pilots were injured but recovered.
Baptista, Cordeiro’s friend and a passenger on the plane Tuesday, said the plan even before the emergency landing was to get home and go to church on Tuesday night.
“For me, I’m so grateful for God,” Baptista said. “But I’ll never fly in a small plane again.”