Rescue crews continued searching Friday for the passenger of a small plane who reportedly fell out into the ocean near Key Biscayne.
Miami-Dade Police crews expanded the search for the passenger, identified by police as 42-year-old Gerardo Nales, who fell out of a Piper PA46 on Thursday. Authorities searched by sea and air from Haulover Beach south to Turkey Point because of currents and weather conditions.
The search stopped at nightfall and will resume Saturday. That will be the last day of the recovery effort, police said.
The pilot said his passenger fell about eight miles southeast of Tamiami Airport with no parachute, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
NBC 6 South Florida learned the pilot of the aircraft was Felipe Fons. He has attended Dean's International Aviation, a flight school at Tamiami Airport.
Lance Hyatt, a ground service worker at the school, said he saw Fons and what he believed was Nales heading to the plane on Thursday.
Police have not released the identity of the pilot, citing their ongoing, active investigation.
Fons was being interviewed by police and the FAA. NBC 6 spoke with a woman at his home on Friday but she would not put him on the phone and eventually hung up.
Police have not indicated any evidence of foul play and the pilot was very cooperative with the investigation, authorities said.
“Felipe is a cool dude," Hyatt said of Fons. "He's quiet for the most part but he always had a smile on his face.”
Fons would come in, do his flight and leave, Hyatt added.
The plane, which was about 2,000 feet in the air at the time of the incident, later landed safely at the airport, and a massive search by sea and air began. The search had been postponed Thursday night because of bad weather and poor visibility.
Miami-Dade Police aviation and marine units, along with other local agencies, were searching for the man on Friday.
In the mayday call to air traffic controllers posted on the website LiveATC.net, the pilot reported the bizarre incident.
"I have a door ajar, and a passenger that fell down. I am six miles from Tamiami," the pilot said.
A little later in the exchange, the air traffic controller asks: "So you said you had a passenger who fell out of your plane?"
"That is correct, sir. He opened the back door, and he just fall down the plane," the pilot said.
The plane took off from a local airport, located at 12800 SW 137th Ave. in Miami.
NBC 6 obtained manuals for the Piper aircraft that show how the door is closed and secured.
One instructor pilot at Dean’s International Aviation, where Fons got his commercial and instrument certifications, said securing the door would have been one of the first items done before the plane made it to the runway for takeoff.
“Part of the preflight preparation would have been to secure that door and even if it wasn't secure in flight, you could remedy the situation,” Humberto Perez said.
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