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NTSB: Turkey vulture feathers found inside fuel tank of crashed plane that killed Winter Haven couple

The crash happened Dec. 17 at Lake Arietta in Auburndale.

AUBURNDALE, Fla — Editor's note: Video above is from a previous story.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board sheds light on what possibly caused a small plane to crash in December in Polk County, killing a Winter Haven couple. 

Bird feathers from a turkey vulture were found wrapped around the inside of one of the plane's fuel tanks, specifically "the fuel filler cap on the inside of the damaged and breached right wing fuel tank," according to the NTSB's report.

A turkey vulture's carcass was found "floating on the surface of the lake" near the plane's wreckage, NTSB said. 

The small plane crashed into Lake Arietta in Auburndale on Dec. 17. 

The two people on board, 70-year-old John Schmalz III and 62-year-old Lynann Kurr of Winter Haven were both killed. 

According to the initial Auburndale police report, the husband and wife were flying in a Lake LA-250 Renegade amphibious aircraft when witnesses told police the plane's wing dipped before it entered the lake "at a steep angle" before catching fire when it hit the water.

The NTSB says data from the Federal Aviation Administration show the plane left around 11:30 a.m. from Lake Hartridge in Winter Haven. 

It initially flew south, then went north for about 25 miles before turning again and heading southwest toward Lake Arietta. 

A witness near the crash site told authorities he saw the plane flying toward him at a "fairly low altitude" and the engine was "making a sputtering noise."

After the plane crashed, it "came apart and there was an immediate, explosive ball of flames and smoke," the witness said, according to the NTSB's report.

RELATED: Husband, wife identified in deadly plane crash into Lake Arietta

RELATED: Officials: Husband, wife die after plane crashes into Lake Arietta

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