CAPE MAY POINT — Authorities have identified the pilot of a small plane that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, and divers are still searching for his remains.
State Police announced Friday the pilot was 58-year-old Lawrence Klimek, of Howell, Monmouth County. Klimek was the only person on the plane.
Klimek’s Facebook page is full of photos and videos of him flying and skydiving. A March posting shows a rented Mooney M20J 201 plane — the same model involved in the accident — when he first flew it solo in January.
“Checked out and approved to solo in just 5 hours flight time on 1/26/19,” he wrote. “I do have over 300 flight hours logged day and night (simple and complex).”
Klimek was apparently fearless.
He describes the video of him doing three jumps from 14,000 feet, saying he was crammed into a plane with 15 others sitting on the floor facing backward, “with someone’s legs wrapped around you from behind.”
All of a sudden the door opens, freezing air rushes in, and people start jumping out, he said.
“Then you realize, you’re next.”
The recovery of the pilot is being conducted by State Police, and the recovery of the aircraft is being conducted by a private salvage company. Both operations are active and ongoing.
According to records from the Federal Aviation Administration, Klimek was issued his commercial pilot’s license in January 2016.
He was the former owner of Environmental Specialists of Howell, which specialized in oil tank removals, according to a Better Business Bureau listing on the closed business.
Klimek took off in the single-engine plane from Trenton-Robbinsville Airport about 8 a.m. Wednesday, and reports came in of a plane in the water about 11:30 a.m.
Heidi Pontoriero, general manager of Trenton-Robbinsville Airport, said Wednesday she was familiar with Klimek.
“The gentleman ... has flown out of this airport many times before. He’s most certainly up to date on all his credentials, and the plane is most certainly up to date,” Pontoriero said.
Beachgoers described a plane flying low near the beach before turning out to open water, skipping off the surface and flying straight up, a trail of black smoke behind it, before falling into the ocean, coming to rest in 18 feet of water.
Staff Writer Michelle Brunetti Post and The Associated Press contributed to this report.