Two Long Island aviation students from Farmingdale State College died in a plane crash at a northeast Pennsylvania airport shortly after takeoff, authorities said Thursday.
A third student, also in the flight program, survived, crawling out a window to safety from the backseat of the fixed-wing, single-engine Mooney M20J.
The plane was leaving the Spring Hill Airport in Sterling, Pa., on Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. when it lost power moments after takeoff and slammed into the ground, catching fire after impact, an aviation source said.
The crash occurred about a mile from the runway but on airport property, the source said.
Evan Kisseloff, 21, of Oceanside, was able to climb out of the aircraft and run to a nearby house to report the accident.
Falconer and Sheridan were in the front seats. The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into the cause of the crash.
Farmingdale State spokesman Patrick Calabria said the plane was not a school aircraft and the flight was not school sponsored.
Shock on campus
"Our campus is in shock and we are all trying to come to grips with this tragedy," Calabria said in a statement.
He said Kisseloff is eligible to participate in Saturday morning's commencement because he is expected to graduate after taking summer classes.
It is not clear how close Sheridan or Falconer were to graduating.
Kisseloff was taken to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., via helicopter as a precautionary measure, said Cpl. James Meyers of the Honesdale, Pa., State Police barracks, who responded to the crash.
Kisseloff's father, Alan, said his son was treated and released from the hospital.
Ben Struck, chief flight instructor at Farmingdale, said he and the 30 students in the college's pilot education class are grieving and trying to figure out how to honor the students who died.
"They were good kids," Struck said. "We haven't had to deal with anything like this since the inception of the flight program."
The U.S. flag in front of Farmingdale's aerospace building on Route 110 flew at half staff Thursday afternoon.
Decades teaching flight
The school has been training pilots since the 1960s. Before graduating, students log between 250 and 300 in-flight hours.
They learn to fly single-engine planes, then commercial aircraft, Struck said.
Two of the students were in the pilot training program and one was in the administration program, officials said. Sheridan had his pilot's license.
Struck said the students have done "thousands of hours of takeoffs and landings."
A source familiar with the case said the plane had made a trip from Republic Airport on Wednesday morning to Lancaster, Pa.
The airplane took off from Lancaster at 6:58 p.m. Wednesday and landed at Spring Hill Airport in Pennsylvania at 7:31 p.m., according to the website FlightAware, which tracks air travel.
The trio had stopped in Sterling to have dinner with Falconer's parents, said Alan Kisseloff.
Airport manager Wayne Saar said he did not think that the plane had previously landed at the airport.
He said the weather was fair.
"It was very calm, a little cloudy, no winds," Saar said, adding that this is the airport's first fatal crash.
NTSB spokesman Peter Knudson said it would take five to 10 business days for a preliminary report on the cause of the crash.
Wayne County coroner Edward Howell said autopsies would be conducted Friday.
Friends gathered near Falconer's Garden City Park home Thursday to talk about the tragedy.
"I don't think you can easily wrap your mind around it," said Elizabeth Morgan, 33. "Someone young like that shouldn't lose their life."
With Kevin Deutsch, Zachary R. Dowdy, Candice Ferrette, Keith Herbert, Tania Lopez, Bill Mason, William Murphy and Josh Wengler.