Aug/15 Causeway plane crash Divers recover pilot's body -- still strapped in - Brownsville Herald: News

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Aug/15 Causeway plane crash Divers recover pilot's body -- still strapped in

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Posted: Thursday, August 15, 1996 12:00 am

By GILBERTO SALINAS

Herald Staff Writer

#SOUTH PADRE ISLAND -The body of a McAllen pilot who flew into the Queen

Isabella Causeway was recovered Wednesday, still strapped to the seat of a

cockpit that had been reduced to a ball of crushed metal.

The body of Richard Harriss, 36, was located by a team of volunteer divers who

searched the murky Laguna Madre waters for about an hour.

"Our visibility was very minimal but we were able to find the pilot pinned

down in the plane. Most of the aircraft was dismantled," said Manuel Ochoa, a

Brownsville scuba diver who assisted in the search.

Harriss and passenger Juan Manuel Gonzalez, 36, of McAllen, flew under the

bridge at its highest point Tuesday, and attempted to repeat the maneuver when

it clipped its wing and crashed, authorities and witnesses said. Gonzalez's

body was found floating near the wreckage of the plane shortly after the

accident. A group of Port Isabel boaters saw the smoke from the impact and

thought it was a boating accident. They found the body and pulled it from the

water.

Four divers, two from Brownsville and one each from Port Isabel and Laguna

Vista, began scavenging the bottom of the Laguna Madre at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

The water is about eight feet deep where the accident happened.

They stumbled across the cockpit of the Cessna 182RG about an hour later,

Ochoa said.

The cockpit, which was torn off the plane in the crash, was hauled by a

private tow boat onto a pier in Port Isabel, said Department of Public Safety

Trooper Oscar Cruz, who assisted in the search.

"The current started to build, which complicated the situation. Instead, we

decided to tow it (cockpit) to dry land," Cruz said.

Cruz said workers considered using the Jaws of Life to extract the body from

the wreckage; however, Port Isabel firefighters managed to pull Harris from

the mangled cockpit around 4 p.m. without any heavy equipment.

Harriss' body was taken to Valley Baptist Medical Center's morgue in Harlingen

for an autopsy, Cruz said.

"The body was intact but the facial area was completely mutilated," Cruz

said.

The U.S. Coast Guard in Port Isabel provided a boat for DPS troopers and the

divers. Four Coast Guard seamen warned boaters not to approach the search

area.

The bay's currents and tides had no effect on the wreckage, which remained

under water, a Coast Guard spokesman said. The only visible part of the plane

was its tail, which was still clamped onto a concrete pillar about 10 feet

above the surface of the water.

"The other half of the plane was in pieces," Cruz said.

DPS Trooper Daniel Pe a said the Federal Aviation Administration will collect

the rest of the plane's wreckage for investigatory purposes.

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