Investigators on Sunday began examining the wreckage of the single-engine airplane that crashed into Moriches Inlet on Saturday afternoon, as police identified the two men who were killed.
Cyril McLavin, 51, of Fresh Meadows, Queens, and Andrew Messana, 72, of Bayside, Queens, were in the cockpit when the plane sputtered and plunged into waters not far from East Moriches' Spadaro Airport, where it had just departed.
The inquiry by the National Transportation Safety Board could take as long as a year, officials said.
Investigators aren't sure which man was at the controls, a police spokeswoman said, but Susan Spadaro, whose family owns the airport, said she saw McLavin piloting the plane at takeoff.
McLavin owned the 1946 two-seat Globe Swift GC-1A, said Scott Redfield, president of the Long Island chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, a flying hobbyist group. McLavin was a member of the group.
Federal Aviation Administration records show McLavin had a valid pilot's license for single-engine airplanes and Messana had a student pilot's license.
Neither man's family could be reached for comment Sunday.
Terry Williams, a transportation board spokesman, said one of its senior investigators, Tim Monville, was on Long Island to handle the probe. Williams said Monville will be visiting the crash site, inspecting the wreckage, examining the engine and interviewing witnesses.
"He was coming straight down," Bennett said. "I think the guy tried to avoid people."
Police, who received multiple 911 calls beginning at about 3:06 p.m. Saturday, said pieces of the plane's tail fell off during its plunge.
The aircraft sank to the bottom of the inlet, about a quarter-mile from land, resting upside down on a jetty under as much as 30 feet of water, authorities said. Lifting it took about eight hours, a task finally accomplished with a crane boom that was brought in.
Susan Spadaro's father, Bart Spadaro, said that McLavin's plane had spent months undergoing a full inspection and rebuilding, and departed from the small airport minutes before crashing at about 3 p.m.
Redfield of the Experimental Aircraft Association said he saw McLavin in the plane at Brookhaven Calabro Airport before it took off for Spadaro Airport.
"I actually saw him," Redfield said. "He taxied in front of me prior to going to Spadaro. I saw him physically flying it."
Redfield described the plane as "highly modified" from its original form. He said McLavin was an "excellent pilot," and that the weather conditions at the time he took off were clear. McLavin was on Long Island for an event sponsored by the association to take young people on short flights who are interested in flying.
After years of renting planes and even helping to build one for a friend, McLavin this year finally realized his dream of owning his own plane, his friends said. He'd worked hard to locate the exact one he wanted and to scrape together the money to buy it.
Susan Spadaro, who had lunch with McLavin and Messana before the crash, said he had big plans for the plane, including travel well beyond the tri-state area.
"I just can't believe his dream ended," she said.
With Emily C. Dooley
and Tania E. Lopez
RECENT PLANE CRASHES ON LI
Saturday's crash was the third in two months in Suffolk County that resulted in fatalities or injuries.
Aug. 26: An M20C Mooney crashed at East Hampton Airport. Bystanders rescued the pilot and his passenger, who were hospitalized for their injuries.