An air traffic controller directed a pilot with engine trouble to a nonexistent Bethpage landing strip before the small plane crashed Aug. 16 on Long Island Rail Road tracks in Hicksville, according to a federal safety report released yesterday.
Pilot Joseph Milo, 59, of Westhampton Beach, was killed in the morning crash when his single-engine Beech C35 slammed into the tracks near South Oyster Bay Road.
The crash site was less than a quarter-mile from the former Grumman airfield, the report said. A passenger, Dr. Carl Giordano, 55, of New Vernon, New Jersey, was injured. Giordano was released from a hospital the next day.
The National Transportation Safety Board findings confirm a News 12 Long Island story the day after the crash reporting federal investigators wanted to review the controller's communications because the landing strip no longer existed.
The air traffic controller at the TRACON air traffic control facility in Westbury told Milo of the landing strip in an area that formerly housed a Grumman airfield, but now houses industrial buildings, the NTSB's report said.
Grumman closed the airfield in 1990.
The plane then started a descent while heading toward the Bethpage area, the report said.
"In the next several transmissions" the controller continued to give Milo directions to the runway, but the pilot said he was unable to see it, the report said.
"Radar and radio contact were eventually lost and emergency responders were notified of the accident," the NTSB report said.
It was unknown whether the controller gave directions based on personal knowledge or Federal Aviation Administration records. The FAA and the controller's union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, declined to comment.
The NTSB said its preliminary findings were subject to change before a final report is finished in about a year.
Milo owned Joe's American Grill in his hometown. His son, Nicolas Milo, 27, was working at the restaurant Monday and said the family had no comment on the NTSB report.
The plane was en route to Morristown, New Jersey, from Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach and was at an altitude of about 6,500 feet and about 8 miles northwest of Republic Airport when the pilot, identified later as Milo, reported to the LaGuardia controller that he was "having a little bit of a problem," the NTSB said.
The report stated the pilot said he might have to land at Republic before telling the controller he would have to "take it down."
Giordano told NTSB investigators he heard a loud "pop" sound, followed by a flicker of light from the engine area and an "oil smell," the report said. The engine began to "sputter" and lose power. Milo attempted to restart the engine without success, the report said.
Milo held a commercial pilot certificate with single-engine, multiengine, and instrument airplane ratings, the NTSB said. He reported 3,300 hours of total flight time on his most recent application for an FAA second-class medical certificate on Dec. 22, 2014, the agency said.
The NTSB said when Milo first reported engine trouble, the controller provided LaGuardia and Kennedy airports as possible landing sites. The controller advised Milo that Republic Airport in East Farmingdale was to the aircraft's southeast and Westchester Airport to the north, the report stated.
Milo responded that Republic was closest to him, according to the report, but said later he might not reach it. At that point, the controller provided information on the "Bethpage strip," the report said.
Audio of the controller's side of the conversation as recorded by a website tracking aviation activity, LiveATC.net, revealed that the controller told Milo the strip was part of a closed airport.
"I just know there is a runway there about eleven o'clock and a mile and half there now."
Less than a minute later, the controller told the pilot the landing strip was "about ten degrees more to the right, but if you need to, there's the Wantagh Parkway right there. You can see the parkway," according to the audio transmission.
In such a situation, it's the pilot's call where to land, said retired military rescue pilot Michael Canders, an associate professor of aviation at Farmingdale State College.
"The pilot is responsible for the completion of a safe flight," Canders said.
With Tania Lopez
CORRECTION: The location of the air traffic control facility was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.