The day after a single-engine plane crashed into an East Patchogue backyard, killing the pilot, federal investigators combed the site, documenting and moving the wreckage before delving into records that might reveal what went wrong.

The priority Wednesday was to collect "perishable" evidence, such as where pieces of Hanan Shoshani's Columbia LC-41 ended up and the scar pattern on the ground, investigator Allison Diaz of the National Transportation Safety Board said.

The wreckage was transported to a hangar at Long Island MacArthur Airport for the probe, Diaz said.

Investigators want to look at Shoshani's flight training, the plane's maintenance records, radar data, air traffic control tapes, meteorological records and "nonvolatile memory" -- information stored on a GPS unit, cellphone or other electronic device on the plane.

"These investigations are a puzzle and every piece of information is a piece of that puzzle," Diaz said of the "expensive and methodical" process of finding out what happened.

A preliminary report is expected to be released in 10 days, with a fuller report in nine months, she said.

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The four-seat private plane took off from Republic Airport in East Farmingdale at about 8:50 a.m. Tuesday and mysteriously veered miles off course. Just before the crash, the pilot radioed the control tower at MacArthur to report problems with visibility and ask for help.

Diaz acknowledged the exchange but said contact was lost just before his plane slammed into the ground at 9:03 a.m.

"I'm not sure where he was or what the weather conditions were . . . at the time he made the radio call," she said.

Shoshani, a father of five from Jamaica, Queens, crashed behind a house on Camille Lane, narrowly missing occupied homes. The crash sparked a blaze that briefly set fire to a nearby house. No one else was hurt.

NTSB officials could not say whether Shoshani was certified to fly only under visual flight rules or with instruments, which could be crucial in low-visibility conditions.

Yaron Cohen, 42, a friend of Shoshani's who also lives in Jamaica, said the pilot was going to MacArthur to pick up headsets. Cohen said his friend's plane was usually kept at Republic Airport.

The family left for Israel Wednesday, to bring Shoshani's remains there for burial, Cohen said.

Edward Libassi, president of A&P Aircraft Maintenance, said his company was hired to move the debris to his hangar at MacArthur, a five-hour process, he said.

"Unfortunately any of these what they call composite airplanes, if it involves a fire, they literally burn to ash," Libassi said. "There isn't very much to pick up -- we picked up most of the airplane with a shovel and a rake."

With Khloe Meitz

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and John Valenti