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Family of Four Dies in Fort Lauderdale Plane Crash

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This past Sunday, April 12, 2015, a family of four was killed when a twin-turbine propeller plane dropped from the sky and crashed into a nature preserve just north of the runway at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Piper PA 31 went down around 4:30 p.m. in a wooded area near the 2400 block of Northwest 62nd Street, after declaring an emergency. Flight tracking websites showed that the plane left Orlando Executive Airport for Fort Lauderdale. A pilot working at the Fort Lauderdale airport said the plane lost power and went down near the runway. The victims, a family of four including two teenagers, were residents of Paramaribo, Suriname, in South America. Killed in the crash were: John Patrick Van Ommeren, 51, Monique Van Ommeren, 49, Sacha Van Ommeren, 15, and Sharissa Van Ommeren, 13.

Fort Lauderdale homicide detectives used dental records and DNA testing to confirm the identification of the family’s charred bodies. At the scene, no one on the ground was injured and firefighters cut through a fence to gain access to the crash site, extinguishing the fire within minutes. Deputy Fire Chief Timothy Heiser stated when firefighters arrived there was a large column of black smoke. “Firefighters had to make their way through trees and brush to access the scene,” He said. About 12 firefighters responded with two fire engines, an aircraft rescue team truck and two chief trucks. “Our crews made an aggressive attack on the fire. Unfortunately, it was discovered there were four souls on board and unfortunately all four perished,” said Fort Lauderdale Fire Division Chief Chantal Botting.

An eye witness of the crash, Elyssa Service, 22, says she was playing Ultimate Frisbee nearby at the time of the crash.“I heard it and then we looked over and there was smoke, and about 10 of us ran over there to help,” said Service, who works as a flight attendant. “The smoke was too big, and by the time that we had gotten there, it was engulfed from the inside out.” Service is an employee for American Airlines and is said to be affected by the crash. “It’s just sad. I’m mostly sad for the families, and it is just a really rough situation,” she said.

A second witness, Bavon Sylvain, 28, was running track on the nearby Calvary Christian Academy campus as the crash happened. He immediately got to his phone and recorded the cloud of smoke rising from the nature preserve.

The airport remained open Sunday evening, but Runway 13 was closed due to its proximity to the crash. The plane did not hit any structures or people in the area. “The main cockpit of the vessel is still there, as well as the other adjacent wings and so forth, they are within a remote area,” said Botting. The cause of the crash is still unknown and is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, while the family and friends of the victims try to piece together the tragedy. On an April 6 Facebook post — showing John and his two daughters minutes away from take-off — one friend called John “the coolest dad ever.”

“I still can’t believe it,” the friend said in the Facebook post. “Still in shock, but at least I can find peace knowing that they crossed over together as a family.” Fort Lauderdale Police department detectives and crime scene investigators are working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board to finalize the investigation.