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Retired Miami-Dade Fire Chief Remembers Deadly ValuJet Crash

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Retired Miami-Dade Fire Chief Louie Fernandez has a stack of newspapers. Most are dated May 12th, 1996. That's the day after a Valujet DC-9 plunged into the Florida Everglades 14 miles west of Miami.

Fernandez, then a Lieutenant, was the spokesperson for his department and spent Wednesday with friends and family of the 110 who died in the crash. Twenty years after the horrific accident, Fernandez's newspapers remind us how bizarre the hours after the crash were for fire rescue personnel and eventually the victim's families.

Fernandez will tell you how he got the call to head to the Everglades to work a plane crash. He will tell you that there was no smoke, there was no wreckage, there was nothing to be seen. Only after numerous helicopter sweeps across the search area did observers detect fuel and hydraulic sheens on the surface of what appeared to be a typical stretch of water in the Everglades.

Related: 20 Years Later, Victims' Families Remember ValuJet Flight That Crashed In Everglades

The DC-9, on fire, with control cables damaged, plunged nose first into the Everglades, disintegrated and disappeared.

"How can a plane disappear," Fernandez still asks 20 years later.

It took divers and rescue workers weeks to recover the shattered plane and bodies that went down with Flight 592.

Scanning the newspapers, Fernandez remembers, and it is not easy, that he had to tell family members,"We are not going to find your loved one. We are switching over to the recovery phase."

"It was one of the hardest events in my entire career," he said.

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