NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. — A single-engine plane crashed into the ocean surf along New Smyrna Beach on the evening of Jan. 13 with one confirmed fatality, identified at 38-year-old Mihoko Tabata.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office was notified of a possible downed plane at 8:58 p.m. Sheriff’s deputies, along with New Smyrna Beach police, county beach units and county and city fire units, responded to the scene. The first units arrived at 9:04 p.m. to find the plane’s wreckage about 20 feet off the shore, north of the Flagler Avenue beach approach in New Smyrna Beach. A woman’s body was recovered from the water.
The plane was believed to be a single-engine Cessna 152. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were called to investigate the cause of the crash.
The plane was believed to have taken off from the Massey Ranch Airpark in Edgewater. Just prior to the crash, the Daytona Beach tower reported getting a final radar hit from the plane about a quarter-mile offshore as it was turning back towards the beach. During flight, the pilot had contacted the tower indicating that she was having difficulty navigating through the weather and was trying to find the nearest airport to land the plane.
New Smyrna Beach police were the first to reach the crash site and entered the ocean to pull the victim’s body from the water and bring it to shore with assistance from bystanders. Fearing there might be other occupants, New Smyrna officers with the assistance of a bystander flipped the plane over in the water. No other victims were found.
Beach officers were then able to attach tow ropes to the plane to pull major pieces of the wreckage to the shore. Smaller pieces of the plane were also gathered up and placed on the beach to await the arrival of federal aviation authorities.
Based on the preliminary results of the autopsy, the death has been determined to be the result of injuries sustained in the crash.
Tabata’s country of origin is Japan, although she has been living in the United States off and on and most recently came to Volusia County on Jan. 10. Her family resides in Japan and was located and notified of the death through the assistance of the Japanese Consulate in Miami.
Tabata was born in Ibaraki, Osaka Prefecture, and trained for years to be certified as a pilot. According to her Facebook page, she spent the holidays in Los Angeles, attending a Clippers vs. Warriors game at Staples Center on Christmas Day and a New Year’s Eve celebration in Grand Park.
According to WESH in Orlando, an NTSB spokesman said that Tabata was a certified instrument pilot and the owner of the plane said Tabata rented plane time from him to build training hours and flew with his instructor on Jan. 12, but was not checked out or given permission to fly the plane alone.
The Aviation Business Gazette reported in September 2013 that the Federal Aviation Administration had recognized Tabata with inclusion in the prestigious FAA Airmen Certification Database. The database, which appears on the agency’s website at www.faa.gov, named Tabata and other certified pilots who had met or exceeded the high educational, licensing and medical standards established by the FAA.