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Last updated: 20 December, 2005 - Published 21:40 GMT
 
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11 Bahamians killed in plane crash
 
Seaplane crash off Miami
The plane crashed in full view of beachgoers.
Residents of the Bahamas island of Bimini have reacted with shock to the deaths of 11 local people in a seaplane crash off Miami.

Residents huddled together in small groups, weeping, as they mourned the loss of loved ones.

Monday's crash killed all 20 people aboard the craft, which burst into flames and plunged into the ocean just off Miami Beach in full view of beachgoers.

"We know one another inside out and so the whole island is affected by what has happened," Paul Ellis, a school principal on the island of 1,600 residents, told BBC Caribbean Radio.

"Right now families are down and wondering just why (this happened)."

Ellis lost an aunt in the crash along with a teacher at this school.

Patricia Saunders, a government clerk, lost her best friend, Sophia Sherman, who worked at the phone company in Bimini.

"We don't know how we're going to get through the holidays," she told the Associated Press.

Sympathies

Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie sent his "deepest condolences" to the residents.

He also dispatched two members of his cabinet to the area to personally visit homes to express their sympathies.

Ellis said islanders are used to flying to Miami, some 50 miles or seventeen minutes away, aboard the seaplanes.

Most had gone to the US city for Christmas shopping.

U.S. investigators are trying to determine why the Chalk's Ocean Airways seaplane broke apart and plunged into the ocean.

Divers scoured the wreckage before crews were to begin raising it to find the cockpit voice recorder of the aircraft.

Mark Rosenker, the acting chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, said the crash investigation would likely take nine to 12 months.

 
 
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