All pets presumed dead after Florida plane crash

All of the pet animals aboard a plane that skidded off a runway and into a river on Saturday are presumed to be dead.

The Boeing 737-800, chartered by the US military, was arriving from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba with 136 passengers and seven crew members when it slid into the St Johns river at the end of the runway at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

All 143 survived the crash and no one was badly hurt, however there was bad news for those on board with pets.

"There's water in the cargo hold," US Navy spokesperson Kaylee LaRocque said. "We are so sad about this situation, that there are animals that unfortunately passed away."

At least four pets, including cats and dogs, were checked in to the luggage hold, located on the bottom of the plane, according to USA Today.

The commanding officer of the Naval Air Station said that passenger wellbeing was the priority when the incident occurred.

He told a media session that rescuers looked in the luggage hold of the plane, heard no sounds and presumed the animals were under water.

"So at that point, as well as for their own safety and not knowing if the aircraft could potentially sink and risk their lives, they backed out," Captain Michael Connor said.

"Obviously, we do not have confirmation, but we are continuing to do what we can to positively determine the status of the pets," he added, saying that he has spoken to some of the pet owners.

"It's a very, obviously, rough situation. My sympathy and my heart really goes out to those families."

LaRocque said that once the plane is removed from the river, authorities will then retrieve the pets and everyone's luggage.

Probe launched

A team of 16 federal investigators is travelling to Jacksonville to determine the cause of the incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Twitter that the team were arriving in Jacksonville on Sunday.

"NTSB team has expertise in aircraft operations, structures, powerplants, human performance, weather, airports and other areas," the agency said, adding that it expects to brief the media later in the day.

Meanwhile, containment booms have been placed around the jet to minimise fuel from spilling into the waterway.

Associated Press journalists took a boat on Saturday to the spot and reported that the chemical stench of oil and fuel was pungent.

The Boeing 737 is stuck in the riverbed, with the bottom of the fuselage underwater and the plane's nose cone missing.

The plane, chartered from Miami Air International, was attempting to land at 9:40pm on Friday (local time) amid thunder and lightning when it slid off the runway and came to rest in the shallow water of the river, authorities and passengers said.

The charter company is contracted by the military for its twice-weekly "rotator" round-trip service between the US mainland and Guantanamo Bay, said Bill Dougherty, a spokesman for the Jacksonville base.

It flies every Tuesday and Friday from the Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia to the Jacksonville air station and on to Cuba. It then flies back to Virginia with a stop again at Jacksonville, Dougherty said.