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Port St. Lucie Family Still Hoping Missing Pilot Is Alive

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The Port St. Lucie family of a Tampa man who has been missing since Sunday when his airplane crashed in the Gulf of Mexico said they are hoping he will be found alive, but know the odds are impossible.

“We’re coming to terms that he’s no longer with us,” said Heatherley Peckham, 30, sister of Darien Peckham, 35, a Tampa resident and a graduate of Port St. Lucie High School.

Peckham and his friend, Zachary Schlitt, 28, of West Palm Beach, were traveling in their 35-year-old-twin-engine, fixed-Beech 35 Debonair aircraft from Tallahassee to Tampa when about 6:45 p.m. they lost contact with an air traffic controller in Jacksonville, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. The U.S. Coast Guard said the plane crashed into the gulf shortly after disappearing from radar.

“He was an amazing brother and such a great guy,” Heatherley Peckham said. “He dedicated his life to helping people in need.”

The Coast Guard mounted a search, which was called off 48 hours after the men disappeared.

The Citrus County Sheriff’s office as of Wednesday were continuing the search using sonar equipment for the two men and the plane, which disappeared 20 miles southwest of Yankeetown.

“We’re all kind of hoping that in a couple of days they will find the plane,” said, Heatherley Peckham. “It would help provide closure for us.”

Heatherley Peckham said her brother has been flying for about 10 years and was very cautious — never flying in rough weather.

“We’re all kind of baffled that they would do that,” she said. “He would always wait out bad weather. There have been many times when he would stay the night with me to wait it out.”

Peckham, the second oldest of five siblings, was involved in early research of abreast cancer-detection technique called Sentinel Lymph Node biopsy and later created a company called Gamma Probe Consulting and would use his airplane to take equipment to hospitals.

According to the FAA, Peckham and Schlitt both have pilot licenses. The FAA site shows the 45-year-old plane is registered to Eagle Squadron Inc., a Hillsborough County flying club.

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