Body found in mangrove presumed to be that of passenger who fell from plane

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(CNN) — The body of a man found Saturday in a mangrove area near Miami may be that of a 42-year-old passenger who fell Thursday from a small plane, police said.

“Even though we presume that the body found is that of Gerardo Nales, investigators are pending ‘official identification’ from the Medical Examiner’s Office,” said Miami-Dade Police Department spokesman Detective Alvaro Zabaleta, in a statement.

The body was discovered at 10:30 a.m., he said.

Authorities had been looking for the Key Biscayne man since a pilot’s mayday distress call sent them scrambling.

“I have a door ajar,” said the pilot of the single-engine Piper PA-46 aircraft, “and a passenger that fell down.”

Nales, the only other person aboard, “opened the back doorand he just fell down the plane,” the pilot said, according to a recording of his conversation with air traffic controllers.

The pilot said he was flying Thursday afternoon at an altitude of 1,800 feet about two miles from shore when the incident occurred.

The search was called off later that night and resumed Friday at daybreak.

A police spokeswoman said it was unclear whether Nales accidentally fell out of the plane or deliberately jumped.

Homicide detectives are involved, as they are in all death investigations, Miami-Dade police spokeswoman Sgt. Robin Pinkard said.

The private plane went on to land safely at Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

By John Branch and Catherine E. Shoichet

CNN’s Tom Watkins, Alina Machado, Mike M. Ahlers and Brian Rokus contributed to this report.

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