Federal accident investigators say it will take days to trace the movements of a small plane that ended up in the bay waters near the Salty Approach Airport on North Captiva Island on Wednesday.
It could take up to 18 months to determine the exact cause of the crash that has claimed the life of the pilot, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.
The agency investigates civilian accidents.
The single-engine Piper was in the waters late Thursday, with law enforcement and divers still working to retrieve the pilot and notify next of kin.
"We'll determine a cause once we have access," said Keith Holloway, an NTSB public affairs officer.
According to investigators, the Piper PA-32 left Page Field in Fort Myers at about 5:40 p.m. Wednesday. Reports were the pilot was transporting construction material for a home on North Captiva.
Preliminary law enforcement reports said the pilot descending in the Piper came up about a 100 feet short of Salty Approach, crashing the plane in choppy water. Reports indicated weather conditions were cloudy with patches of hard rain and wind.
A witness reportedly tried to dive into the waters around the Piper. The dangers of strong currents snubbed those efforts.