By CBS3 Staff

CAPE MAY, N.J. (CBS) — Authorities are working to recover a pilot after a small private plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Cape May beach on Wednesday morning. It happened in the area of the Cape May Lighthouse, between Cape May and Cape May Point.

(credit: CBS3)

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The emergency call came in shortly before 11:30 a.m.

(credit: CBS3)

The FAA says a Mooney M20J aircraft crashed into the ocean approximately 1,200 feet from the Cape May Lighthouse. The plane is submerged in 18 feet of water.

According to the FAA, only the pilot was on board. The plane departed from Trenton-Robbinsville Airport at 8 a.m.

The plane was spotted traveling low among the coast in Cape May County.

“It came around the cove, I saw it go up and then it came straight back down. It didn’t even hesitate, just straight down into the water,” said eyewitness David Fletcher.

Jacqueline Morroni was on Wildwood Crest beach when she captured the small plane having troubles before it crashed.

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New Jersey State Police are now calling the search for the pilot a recovery effort.

Witnesses in Cape May Point said local lifeguards tried to rescue the pilot before being called off by the Coast Guard and police.

“They got on paddleboards, they went out looking for it immediately it seemed,” Patty Oat said. “But there was no smoke coming from the water, there was no wing or fuselage, nothing floating on top.”

The plane that crashed belongs to Air Mods and Repair Inc., based out of the Trenton-Robbinsville Airport.

The company will not release the name of the pilot, but they say he rented the plane for the day.

They say he’s been an avid renter for about three years and sometimes rents the plane several days a week.

The pilot was expected to return the plane today. The company said the aircraft was in sound-working condition.

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CBS3’s Cleve Bryan contributed to this report.