A pilot who died two years ago after his plane crashed in Hicksville was mistakenly directed to a long-shuttered airport for an emergency landing by an air-traffic controller using an obsolete map, according to a new federal analysis.
The controller’s radar video map displayed a Bethpage landing strip as the nearest airfield, but it was closed 25 years ago and had been built over, the National Transportation Safety Board said in its report.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to keep its air traffic controllers’ maps current was one of the factors the NTSB cited in its March 29 analysis of the crash.
Michael Canders, director of the aviation center at Farmingdale State College, who read the NTSB report, was taken aback by the obsolete maps.
“I can’t explain it; I certainly am surprised at that,” he said Wednesday. “To me the out-of-date map is what is causing the confusion.”
The FAA in a statement said that since Nov. 28, 2016, it has made certain all closed airports are deleted from its maps — more than a year after the Aug. 16, 2015, crash in which the sole passenger survived. “The system is updated weekly to identify inaccurate airport data,” the FAA added.
“This crash occurred for one reason and one reason only, because they directed him [the pilot] to a closed runway,” said Douglas A. Latto, a Rye Brook, N.Y.-based lawyer who represents the pilot’s family.
“This controller was unequivocal; on five different occasions he told him, ‘Milo the runway was there,’” Latto said.
Yet that landing strip was on the former site of defense contractor Northrup Grumman Corp.
The accident began with a catastrophic engine failure while pilot Joseph Milo, 59, of Westhampton Beach was ferrying an orthopedic surgeon from Long Island to Morristown, New Jersey.
While cruising at 6,500 feet, passenger Carl Giordano told investigators “he heard a loud “pop” sound and saw a flicker of light from the engine area, followed by an “oil smell.”
The engine sputtered and Milo could not restart it, Giordano told NTSB investigators.
“When the engine failed, the first thing you try to do is restart the engine,” the lawyer said, explaining that Milo had no way of knowing that was impossible.
The NTSB report said drug tests showed the pilot likely was impaired, noting it took him 2 minutes and 18 seconds — while the plane fell 2,000 feet — to turn toward Republic Airport in East Farmingdale.
“The combination of the pilot’s use of drugs and his medical conditions likely significantly impaired his psychomotor functioning and decision-making and led to his delay in responding appropriately to the in-flight loss of engine power and, therefore, contributed to the accident,” the report said.
Had Milo immediately headed toward East Farmingdale, he would have been able to glide to “a suitable runway,” the report said.
It also noted there were several nearby golf courses where the 1952 Hawker Beechcraft BE35 could have landed.
The Farmingdale expert said sound pre-flight planning includes knowing where to land in an emergency.
“If he [Milo] did some preflight planning, looking at his maps, he probably doesn’t see Bethpage, but in the heat of the moment, looking for help, with the controller providing some help, it’s very easy to get sucked into some bad advice.”
Latto said the family plans to sue.