Alan and Kathleen Van Nimwegen, owners of Seminole Paint and Auto Body Shop in Sanford, FL, went missing when their private plane crashed in severe weather during a flight from the Bahamas the morning of July 16. They were the only people on board.
The U.S. Coast Guard has now called off the search to locate the Nimwegens after their Beechcraft Bonanza BE 36 crashed shortly after take off about 9:20 AM on a return trip from Bahamas to Daytona Beach. The Coast Guard responded quickly, deploying a helicopter that found a massive debris field, oil slick and empty life raft around five miles off Great Harbour Cay. USCG Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios said that searchers concentrated on the area off Great Harbour Cay, near the Berry Islands, after a Coast Guard C130 airplane spotted a debris field. The Coast Guard cutter Dolphin also responded to the scene.
Family of the couple, who own and operate Seminole Paint and Auto Body Shop at 2540 S Myrtle Avenue in Sanford, released a statement on the afternoon of July 16.
“The families of Alan Van Nimwegen and Kathleen Van Nimwegen hold out hope for the return of Alan and Kathleen,” the statement said.
“Alan and Kathleen were en route from the Bahamas to Florida, when radar contact with their airplane was lost during bad weather.”
The Nimwegens were residents of a fly-in community, Spruce Creek, near Port Orange and friends said the two frequently flew to their home in Bahamas for weekends. Family friends said the Van Nimwegens said the couple flew to the Bahamas almost every weekend. They returned during the week to run their body shop.
Search teams from the U.S. Coast Guard located debris thought related to the crash including a life vest and an oxygen tank. However, no one had been found.
A neighbor of the couple, formerly of Hewitt, NJ., said they had lived at their Spruce Creek Fly-In residence for at least the past 15 years.
“They were good neighbors,” said Wayne Young, who said he lives two doors down from the Van Nimwegens on Wright Drive. “And good people.”
He said both Alan and Kathleen Van Nimwegen were licensed and very competent pilots. “They were not rank amateurs,” he said.
Coast Guard craft and personnel from Miami and Clearwater were called in to assist members of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force and the Bahamian Air and Sea Rescue participating in the search effort.
Federal Aviation Administration officials said contact was lost with the Beechcraft Bonanza around 9 a.m. Monday, July 16. The plane had departed from Marsh Harbour on Abaco in the Bahamas.
Marsh Harbour is the same airport from which the R&B singer Aaliyah and her entourage were taking off when their overladen plane crashed in August, 2001. All nine passengers and crew were killed.