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Search continues off Miami for man who plunged from small plane

MIAMI (Reuters) - Search and rescue workers scoured a broad area of the Atlantic Ocean off Miami on Friday, hoping to find some trace of a man who vanished Thursday after he was reported to have fallen from a small private plane as it flew over the sea.

The Miami-Dade Police Department identified the missing man as 42-year-old Gerardo Nales and said he was a resident of Key Biscayne, an island not far from the spot where the plane's pilot said he jumped or fell into the water at about 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT) on Thursday.

The pilot of the Piper PA-46 aircraft has not been identified and Detective Javier Baez said it was not clear if the fall of Nales, the plane's sole passenger, was deliberate or accidental.

"It's still open and ongoing," Baez said, when asked if possible foul play had been ruled out by police investigators.

Police air and marine units expanded their search area on Friday because of currents and strong winds, according to a statement by Miami-Dade Police Department.

In a recording of his "Mayday" call to air traffic controllers, the pilot can be heard blaming the incident on his passenger.

"You said you've got a passenger that fell out of your plane?" an air traffic controller asked.

"That's correct, sir," the pilot responded. "He opened the back door and he just fell out the plane."

The plane proceeded to land safely at the airport.

(Reporting by David Adams and Tom Brown; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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