MIAMI (WSFA) - More than 20 years have passed since ValuJet Airlines Flight 592 caught fire and plunged into the Florida Everglades, killing all 110 passengers and crew members aboard. Among those killed were Jay Smith of Montgomery and Dennis Sabo of Auburn.
While many years have passed since the crash on May 11, 1996, the attention of the FBI has not. Agents continue their search for Mauro Ociel Valenzuela-Reyes, a fugitive airline mechanic they believe may have played a role in the crash.
Now, in an effort to jump-start new leads in the case, the FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to Valenzuela-Reyes' arrest.
He was facing federal criminal charges in 1999 after crash investigators determined he had a role in the mishandling and packaging of oxygen generators that were placed in the DC-9's cargo hold. According to the FBI, the generators, which were missing their required safety caps, ignited in the cargo area, causing the crash.
(The crash of ValuJet Flight 592 left a crater in the Everglades, seen in this FAA photo.)
"He fled before trial," said FBI Miami Special Agent Jacqueline Fruge, who has been the primary agent on the case since it began.
10 minutes into the flight from Miami International to Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta, the pilot reported a fire in the cargo hold. The plane was returning to the airport when it crashed into the marshy waters of the Everglades, killing everyone on board.
An archived report from WSFA 12 News in the days after the crash focused on Lt. Jay Smith who was assigned to Maxwell-Gunter AFB. He was a Trinity graduate whose father was in charge of his ROTC unit while he was in college. He was described as being devoted to family, friends and his church.
According to an archived 1997 report from the Mobile Register, Dennis Sabo was an Auburn University professor who was returning home from his son's graduation at the University of Miami. He took Flight 592 as an earlier flight option so he could get home to be with his wife and daughters for Mother's Day.
(This FAA photo show recovery personnel working at the crash site of ValuJet Flight 592.)
Valenzuela-Reyes has connections to Atlanta where his ex-wife and kids have lived, and Santiago, Chile, where he has family and may be living today under a false identity.