Three people were aboard the Boeing 767 cargo jet when it plunged into the water on Saturday afternoon.
Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said authorities were still in “active recovery mode,” though it was “hard to believe” they would find any survivors.
“The north wind has blown the water out of the bay,” he said. “It’s going to be daunting.”
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Mesa Airlines identified one of the people on the plane as Sean Archuleta, a captain who had worked with the company since 2013.
“This is a sad day for the entire Mesa Family as we mourn the loss of Captain Sean Archuleta,” said Jonathan Ornstein, the company's CEO.
The other two people had not yet been identified.
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the plane’s crew last spoke to air traffic controllers at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, where it was traveling to from Miami, at 12:30 p.m.
Nine minutes later, when the plane was at 6,000 feet, it lost communication and radar contact and began a steep nose dive, Sumwalt said.
“There was no distress call,” he said.
The plane, which was operated by Atlas Air Worldwide, had been traveling at 240 knots, or 267 mph, Sumwalt said.
The nose dive was captured on a camera at Chambers County Jail, he said, adding it wasn't clear why the plane crashed.
Investigators found its wings but were still searching for its black boxes, the data and cockpit voice recorder, though Sumwalt said the devices might be buried so deep in mud that they can’t be located electronically.
“We will use a combination of divers, or to dredge for the recorders,” he said.
Tim Stelloh is a reporter for NBC News, based in California.