It was a shocking discovery in the depths of the Everglades Thursday morning: A man's body was found next to a mangled plane as a gator crept nearby.
The student pilot, identified as Mark Ukaere, went on an unauthorized flight and crashed in the murky waters, officials said. It was later revealed that the plane went missing from the Dean International Flight School Saturday, but wasn't reported missing until four days later.
NBC 6 analyzed reports that reveal past problems at the aviation school. NBC 6 also obtained an exclusive radar image highlighting the deadly flight path into the Everglades.
Robert Dean runs the aviation center from Miami Executive Airport. The school houses 50 aircraft and logs 60,000 miles per year.
"The reason there's so many children, so many kids at this school is because of our safety record, because of the way we maintain the planes," Dean told NBC 6. "The pilots, the captains who fly, all send their kids. Why? Because this is one of the best schools."
However, Dean admits his school has higher instances of accidents and issues than most other schools.
NBC 6 obtained reports by the National Transportation and Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration of downed planes at Dean International. Since 2007, a total of 29 accidents or incidents have been documented, including five fatalities.
The reports reveal other issues such as failed pre-flight inspections, loss of engine power, unsatisfactory oil fluid levels and even fuel exhaustion.
"If you're operating an operation like this, 50 aircraft, 60,000 miles per year, if you take our average and another schools' average, we're in a heck of a good shape," Dean said.
Many of the incidents could have been avoided if the pilot checked the gauges, and the planes were properly maintained, according to the reports. Aviation experts say it is ultimately the operator's responsibility to maintain air worthiness.
NBC 6 also found enforcement actions taken by the FAA; the school faced corrections, warnings and fines in the past.
The cause of this week's crash is still under investigation.
A memorial in honor of Ukaere will be held Saturday at Dean International Flight School.