Feb. 3 (UPI) -- The Coast Guard announced Sunday the suspension of a search for a downed Piper Saratoga aircraft about 23 miles east of Palm Beach, Fla., with a prominent veterinarian and his wife aboard.
For more than 32 hours, the Coast Guard conducted maritime and aerial searches in an area of 1,164 square nautical miles, the agency said in a news release. The Palm Beach Sheriff Office and partner agencies also searched for the small plane.
Searching for the fixed-wing, single-engine plane and its occupants were the Coast Guard Cutter James, Coast Guard Cutter Paul Clark, MH-65 helicopters and an HC-144 aircraft from Air Station Miami and Station Lake Worth Inlet.
"Suspending a search is one of the most difficult decisions we ever have to make, and it is never made lightly," said Capt. Mark Vlaun, deputy commander of Coast Guard Sector Miami, "We have been in regular contact with the family members throughout our search efforts and extend our sympathies for what we know is a very difficult time for them."
The Palm Beach Post reported pilot Kenneth Simmons, 62, and his wife Alice McCormick Simmons, of Lantana, were aboard the plane along with their golden retrievers, Bailey and Lily.
Simmons was a veterinarian for 30 years, including owning an animal hospital and pet day care center/resort in Greenacres until he sold them a few years ago.
In 2012, she flew retired Florida Highway Patrol K-9 Drake to Gainesville for treatment of gunshot wounds during a robbery at his master's home in West Palm Beach. Simmons, who studied veterinary medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville, then decided the dog was beyond saving.
He also picked up animal patients in the Bahamas, where he was destined Friday.
The Pipe took off from Palm Beach County Park Airport in Lantana around 1 p.m., shortly before airport's flight restrictions went into effect for President Donald Trump's weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago.
The plane encountered thunderstorm en route to Marsh Harbour, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which was alerted to the crash by air-traffic controllers. Flight Aware, a website that tracks flights, shows the small plane 15 minutes after takeoff zigzagging multiple times and going down.
WPBF-TV reported the plane made an emergency landing in 2017 at the Lantana airport because the landing gear had failed. Simmons, also the owner of the plane then, made a belly landing and no one was hurt.
Production of the six-seater Piper Saratoga ended in 2009.