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Wing broke off doomed seaplane

Investigators probe cause of crash off Miami Beach that killed 20

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Investigators look along the jetty for any sign of evidence.

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Air and Space Accidents

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- The right wing detached from a vintage seaplane before it plunged into the sea off Miami Beach and killed 20 people, but it was unclear what caused the wing to break off, investigators said Tuesday.

Amateur video obtained by CNN showed the fuselage slam into the water Monday, followed by the wing falling through the sky on fire and leaving a trail of black smoke.

Mark Rosenker, the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators had video from the U.S. Coast Guard and CNN, and will be getting video from a New York tourist who witnessed the crash. (Watch amateur video of the crash -- 0:26)

"All of this video will be sent back to Washington for analysis enhancement, if necessary, to ... help us understand what happened," he told reporters Tuesday night.

Rosenker refused to speculate on what might have caused the wing to separate, saying "a number of things could tear the wing off" the aircraft.

"What I've seen is a separation of a wing from the aircraft and, as a result, the aircraft crashing. I can't tell you why," he said. "Ultimately, we will be able to tell you why."

Rosenker said the video that captured the plane's final seconds will likely yield "great information."

"It's rare that you get an opportunity to see an accident while it is going on," the veteran crash investigator said.

Investigators were able to retrieve the right wing Tuesday, and the engine and propeller were still attached to it, Rosenker said. Investigators hope to retrieve the fuselage on Wednesday.

The vintage seaplane, operated by Chalk's Ocean Airways, crashed Monday afternoon shortly after takeoff near Miami Beach with 18 passengers, including three children under the age of 2, and two crew members. (Map)

It was en route to the Bahamian island of Bimini when it went down.

Rosenker said 17 of the 20 people aboard have been identified. Among those killed, he said, was a standby passenger who got on the plane at the last minute after another woman didn't make the flight.

The victims also included Sergio Danguillecourt -- a member of the board of directors of Bacardi Ltd. and a great-great grandson of the rum distiller's founder, Don Facundo Bacardi -- and his wife, Jacqueline Kriz Danguillecourt, the company said Tuesday.

Danguillecourt, 42, and his wife lived in Miami.

Investigators have begun interviewing the small airline's employees, and they also have begun reviewing the seaplane's maintenance and flight records, Rosenker said.

'Delicate operation'

A salvage team will continue working Wednesday to lift the wreckage from about 35 feet of water.

"This is a delicate operation," Rosenker said at a news conference earlier Tuesday. "There's a great deal of science to this type of recovery."

The wreckage will be placed aboard a barge and taken to a secure location, where investigators will pore over it for clues. (Watch the investigation into the crash -- 1:19)

The salvage company -- Atlanta Air Recovery of Griffin, Georgia -- has sent three representatives to Miami to oversee the work, said recovery manager Todd Thaxton.

A cockpit voice recorder had not been recovered from the tail, Rosenker said.

"Unfortunately, the way the wreckage is situated, it does not lend itself to access very easily," he said.

The Grumman G-73 Mallard, which also is capable of taking off and landing on land, was not required to have a flight data recorder and did not, Rosenker said.

Divers mapped the crash site Tuesday morning and documented the debris field through photographs, Coast Guard Capt. James Maes told CNN.

Referring to the pictures, Rosenker said, "What we've seen is a fairly mangled aircraft, unfortunately."

The plane, built in 1947, was retrofitted in the mid-1980s, Rosenker said.

The company's Web site says its fleet "is undergoing an extensive refurbishment program which includes complete mechanical overhaul and cosmetic renovation."

The Web site says the previous "modernization" that took place in the 1980s included "converting the piston-engine aircraft to Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop engines, as well as complete avionics upgrade."

Reviewing the company's records on its planes, Rosenker said, "will tell us when they have been maintained, and at what level of maintenance."

The Federal Aviation Administration mandates that aircraft carrying passengers undergo an annual airworthiness inspection.

Investigators said they are treating the crash as an accident and that one factor might have been the plane's age.

"We'll be looking at operations. We'll be looking at human factors," Rosenker told CNN, as well as the plane's structure and engines.

Asked whether collision with birds could have caused the accident, Rosenker said, "At this point, nothing is off the table."

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