A single-engine plane that took off from East Farmingdale mysteriously veered miles off course and crashed into an East Patchogue backyard Tuesday, killing a pilot who narrowly missed hitting homes.
Shortly before the impact, the doomed pilot, Hanan Shoshani, 53, was heard saying, "I need your help, sir" to an Islip air traffic controller, according to a transmission on LiveATC.net, a website that posts air traffic communications.
Identifying himself with his craft's 610MH tail number, Shoshani said to the controller that he was going to Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip Town.
"Heading to Islip. I don't have visibility" in a brief and sometimes muffled exchange at about 9 a.m. Tuesday.
"Are you declaring an emergency?" the controller asked. The pilot said he would return to Republic Airport in East Farmingdale, with the controller acknowledging it was a "good plan."
Seconds later, his LC-41 slammed into the backyard of 51 Camille Lane, where a mother and a sleeping 1-year-old baby were inside the home, authorities said.
Shoshani, of Jamaica, Queens, the sole occupant of the four-seater airplane, was declared dead at the scene, where his aircraft had disintegrated.
"It was very, very fortunate that he traveled in the path he did," homicide Det. Lt. Kevin Beyrer said, noting the plane's trajectory took it between houses spaced less than 30 yards apart. "Because of that, no one was hurt" on the ground.
Linda Villalobos, who lives on nearby Denise Drive, said, "When we heard it, we thought it was a car crashing into the backyard. There were large flames, all black smoke, that were at least three stories high."
The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched an investigator to begin a probe Wednesday morning, and meet with manufacturers of the plane and engine. The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating the cause of the crash.
Beyrer said the flight departed from Republic at about 8:50 a.m.
The FAA said indications were that the planewas headed to Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, though Beyrer said it was traveling southwest when it crashed.
Skies were overcast in Tuesday morning, with clouds about 500 to 700 feet above ground, a "low" ceiling that could affect flight visibility, said meteorologist Gary Conte of the National Weather Service in Upton.
First responder Gregory C. Miglino Jr., chief of South Country Ambulance, said it appeared the pilot "skillfully" managed to avoid hitting homes.
"This would only have been divine intervention or a guy who knew what he was doing and didn't want anyone to get hurt," Miglino said. "The houses are close together, the parcels are small, there isn't a lot of room."
Craig Cooper, a spokesman for the American Red Cross, said the woman inside the house near where the plane landed was treated for shock after the plane came down.
"She immediately ran into the baby's room, grabbed the baby out of the bed, and brought him outside," Cooper said, speaking on the family's behalf. "The baby slept through the impact."
Marcus Wilson, who lives in the neighborhood, said he had assumed the fire was partially extinguished by water from his above-ground pool, which was demolished, as was a trampoline and shed. "The pool saved us," Wilson said.
Outside Shoshani's home Tuesday, friends and family went in and out, many telling reporters that the father of five was a charitable, religious man. He operated jeans and sneakers stores in Queens, friends said.
Word had already spread there of how the pilot had not hit any house. "Even before he died he did everything to save others," said Abraham Hayim of Jamaica. "You don't have to ask to know what kind of man he was when you see all of these people here for him. . . . When the mayor dies he may not have as many who loved him."
FAA records show the plane was registered to the Self-Wing Co. in Jamaica, Queens.
It was built in 2006 by Columbia Aircraft Manufacturing, which was later bought by Cessna. Its registration was last updated in May 2013 and was to expire in July 2015, FAA records show.
Shoshani was a "down to earth guy, family guy," said family friend Adam Malls of Jamaica. "He really enjoyed flying. It was his hobby. He wanted to do it."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Marcus Wilson was the property owner at the home. In addition, Wilson is not married to a woman he identified as Kerri and was not taking his daughter to school before the crash.