Search for New Jersey Father and Son Lost in Plane Crash Called Off

December 25, 2018 Updated: December 25, 2018

After 56 hours of fruitless searching, the Coast Guard has suspended the search for a father and son from New Jersey whose light plane crashed off the Florida coast.

New Jersey business executive Peter Renzulli, 51, and son Daniel, 18, were flying back from Disney World in Orlando, Florida. when their single-engine Piper PA-46 Malibu crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the city of Jacksonville on Dec. 20.

The pair, both accomplished pilots, took off from Kissimmee Airport bound for Princeton, New Jersey. The plane climbed to a cruising altitude of 22,000 feet. After half an hour it plunged downward steeply, hitting the water off Ponte Vedra beach, about 18 miles south of Jacksonville.

Extensive Search Meets No Success

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center received an aircraft distress signal around 9:45 a.m. on Dec. 20 and passed the message to Coast Guard 7th District personnel. The Coast Guard organized 21 separate sorties into the search area but turned up without a sign of the plane or its passengers.

The Coast Guard searched a 1,400 square-mile space for some 56 hours, using the cutters Ridley and Sawfish, plus smaller response boats from Coast Guard Station Mayport, an HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Miami, and several helicopters from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, as well as stations in Miami and Savannah, Georgia.

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter
An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater flew search sorties. (US Coast Guard)

The U.S. Navy, Customs and Border Protection, St. John’s Fire & Rescue, Jacksonville Fire & Rescue Department, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office all contributed to the search, according to a Coast Guard press release.

“The suspension of an active search and rescue case is never an easy decision to make,” said Christopher Eddy, search and rescue mission coordinator for the Coast Guard 7th District.

“We always want the best case scenario to happen and will continue to monitor for new information that could aid responders.”

The search for Peter Renzulli was called off
Peter Renzulli and his son Daniel are missing after their plane crashed on their way home from Disney World in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 19. (Facebook)

Family ‘Devastated’ by Loss

The family’s attorney, Justin A. Marchetta, released a statement saying, in part, “The family was devastated to learn that the aircraft could not be located. Peter and Daniel are accomplished pilots and their disappearance is heartbreaking.”

“We ask that the privacy of the Renzulli family be respected at this difficult time and we ask that those following this story keep the Renzullis in their thoughts and prayers.”

Marchetta mentioned that the older Renzulli had just completed 30 hours of advanced training in the Piper, The New York Post reported.

“The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation, but it may be several months before all of the facts surrounding this incident are known,” Marchetta concluded, according to My Central New Jersey.com.

Peter Renzulli was an accomplished money manager, who spent the past 17 years running financial management services. He was the president and chief financial officer of PerformAccount, and president at Bookkeepers 2 Go, LLC.

The elder Renzulli was a certified public accountant and an adjunct professor at Rutgers University, his alma mater. He held a bachelor of science in accounting and a master of business administration in marketing from the same school.

Daniel Renzulli graduated from Bridgewater-Raritan High School in 2018, and took classes at Michigan State University according to My Central New Jersey.com.

Renzulli is survived by his daughter, Meredith, and wife Lori.

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