The crash killed the pilot, who has yet to be identified.
Investigator Tim Monville said the NTSB has talked with the FAA and the owner of the banner-towing company, Aerial Banners Inc., along with several witnesses.
The wreckage of the plane, a Piper PA-25, was removed from the pool deck of the Berkley South condominium, an 18-story condo building at 3015 N. Ocean Blvd.
“We were able to recover the wreckage from the top of the structure,” Monville said. “We also inspected the (condo) units impacted by the airplane and identified some pieces of the aircraft that were inside the one unit, specifically.”
The wreckage was lowered to a flatbed trailer on State Road A1A about 10 a.m. and was taken for examination, he said. The rest of the day will be spent interviewing witnesses and looking for more surveillance videos from neighboring buildings along the beach.
The plane’s engine was to be examined Sunday, he said, adding that it’s too soon to say what caused the crash.
Dozens of passers-by watched the plane recovery operation Saturday morning, slowing down along southbound A1A to take pictures of the bright yellow wreckage.
The NTSB investigation will include the pilot’s performance, all pilot training records, company maintenance practices, which are standard investigation requirements.
“We do that routinely,” Monville said.
The officials of the banner towing company have been very supportive and responsive, he said, adding that the identity of the pilot will be released by police or the Broward Medical Examiner.
“We don’t have the FAA air traffic audio yet but I will get that (and) we will ask for radar data that will show how low the plane was flying,” Monville said. “We also know the company had a tracking system in place where they can track their own aircraft and so they’re going to provide me with that data, as well.”
Getting all that usually takes about two weeks, he said.
The banner plane, which had been flying up and down the beach, struck the condo on the east side between the 16th or 17th floor at 11:42 a.m. Friday, said Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Stephan Gollan.
“The occupant of that condo was in there at the time but was not injured,” he said.
There were about 20 construction workers on the pool deck at the time but none of them was injured by the plane’s falling debris, Gollan said.
“It could have been substantially worse with a lot more injuries on scene,” he said. “There was flammable material up there from the construction that’s taking place. Now you load an aircraft on a building that’s already under construction, plus there’s a load of (plane) debris on top of that that’s just fallen 16 floors, 160 feet out of the sky.”
Gollan called the circumstances surrounding the crash “a recipe for disaster, especially with 20 individuals there that are just doing their job. There’s no telling what could have happened.”
What did not happen was a fire. Gollan said it would have taken oxygen, fuel and ignition to all come together at the same time.
“It’s sad the [pilot] lost their life,” Gollan said, adding that casualties could have multiplied with a blaze. “The guy in the condo was a couple of feet away from where the plane came in. I can only attribute it to fate that there was no fire.”
No one inside the building was hurt either, he said.
The exterior of the condo was being renovated and those living inside were safely evacuated, he said. By 3:30 p.m. Friday, most residents were being allowed back into their units, except for some people who lived in the G line condos on the floors near where the plane penetrated the facade.
Jennifer Gallant of Margate was among those who left the building. She works in a ground-floor suite of the condominium.
“The fire alarm went off and we all went outside to a parking garage,” Gallant said. “We didn’t feel the building shake, nothing out of normal because there is always drilling and a lot of work happening. I felt no shaking, I had no idea.”
Gallant was allowed to go back inside the building briefly to get her belongings, clock out and turn off her computer before being sent home at about 12:15 p.m.
“You could smell gasoline, but there no fire when I was there,” said Gallant. “I hope everyone is safe in the building.”
She said the crash happened “out of the blue” on a routine Friday. “You never wake up and think this is going to happen to you today. You just want to get home to your loved ones.”
The plane’s fuselage is labeled “800-FLY-7001” and it was operated by Aerial Banners Inc., pulling ads behind it during flights along the coast as well as over sporting events and other large gatherings, according to the company’s website. The Federal Aviation Administration said its preliminary investigation shows the aircraft picked up the banner from North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines.
Ari Ziemer recorded cellphone video of the low-flying plane just before the crash.
“I was on Fort Lauderdale beach in front of the Ocean Sky Resort with my family when I noticed the banner and took a video clip of it because it caught my eye,” she said.
Vacationers Jim McHugh and his wife Roberta were on the beach in front of the Sun Tower Hotel & Suites when he said the banner plane flew past, headed north.
“And then he made a hard bank to the left,” Jim McHugh said. “This guy was lower than the buildings on Oakland Park Boulevard. I said to my wife it was going to crash.”
McHugh said the couple, from New York City, returned to their hotel room at 2030 N. Ocean Blvd. to watch the news on TV.
“It’s a shame the poor guy didn’t bank to the right and to the water,” McHugh said. “I didn’t hear no sputtering on the engine. And then we heard fire sirens.”
He said he was saddened to have witnessed the fatal flight.
“I am feeling sorry,” he said. “The guy must have died. I don’t see how he could have survived.”
Jeffery Walker, a construction worker from Hollywood, said he witnessed the low-flying plane’s banner become snagged on the five-story building he was working on, across A1A from the crash site.
“It was flying real low and the banner got hooked,” Walker said. “It wouldn’t let [the pilot] fly up, and it just crashed right there.”
The plane was able to break free but flew into the high rise, punching a hole in the face of the building, three floors below the roof, Walker said.
The National Transportation Safety Board was called to the scene and it will take over the investigation, Gollan said.