UPDATE: May 7 ― The bodies of a dog and two cats have been recovered from the cargo hold of the airplane that crash-landed in a Florida river, Naval Air Station Jacksonville said Sunday in a Facebook post. All three animals belonged to a military family. A fourth animal on the flight was traveling in the cabin with its owner, who safely took the pet off the plane.
While all humans aboard a charter flight that crash-landed in a Florida river on Friday night survived, multiple animals remain in the plane’s waterlogged cargo hold, and it’s unclear whether any are alive.
The Miami Air International Boeing 737 was carrying 136 passengers and seven crew members from the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when it skidded off the runway at Naval Air Station Jacksonville during a thunderstorm. The plane ended up coming to a stop in the St. Johns River.
The people were rescued with only some minor injuries. But NAS Jacksonville spokeswoman Kaylee LaRocque told USA Today that based on the flight’s manifest, there were at least four animals that had been checked as luggage traveling in the plane’s cargo hold. Although the plane is not totally submerged in the river, there is water in the cargo hold and the animals there are unaccounted for.
“Our first priority was obviously human life,” NAS Jacksonville base Cmdr. Mike Connor said at a Saturday-evening press conference.
After learning there were animals still aboard, Connor added, “My heart immediately sank because I am a pet owner myself and cannot imagine what the pet owners were going through.”
At that point, he said the next priority became “to attempt to determine the status of the pets.”
Connor said first responders looked inside the cargo bay, and did not see any animals or hear any animal noises. They then backed out, he said, because at that point responders were unsure if the plane could sink at any minute.
Later, he said he asked first responders to assess the cargo hold again, and said they “could not see any pet carriers that were above the water line.”
NAS Jacksonville did not immediately return a request for comment from HuffPost. But LaRocque told NBC News that no one will know the animals’ status for sure until the plane is removed from the water.