On the left, a plane on the ground at Robert...

On the left, a plane on the ground at Robert Moses State Park. On the right, Pilot Stefan Cavallo at Nassau University Medical Center recovering from the minor injuries he suffered. (June 25, 2010) Credit: Photos by Paul Mazza and Denise Bonilla

The pilot of a single-engine plane, its engine failed, landed in the dunes at Robert Moses State Park on Friday, threading the aircraft past sunbathers and the boardwalk to avoid harming anyone on the ground, witnesses said.

The man, 89, even managed to save his plane from serious damage, State Park police said.

The plane bounced and spun, then came to rest in the sand before Stefan Cavallo of Westhampton Beach, who was a test pilot during World War II, was helped from the plane, face and chin bloodied, but conscious, after the 5:20 p.m. descent, the witnesses said.

"There were a hundred people in the picnic area and the boardwalk, it's a beautiful day on Long Island. The guy did a great job landing that plane without hurting anyone," picnicker John Newell, 63, of Hauppauge, said.

As Newell and a friend helped the pilot out, he told them he was OK, and they put a compress on his head to stop the bleeding, Newell said. The pilot told them his Cessna Centurion lost power over the ocean.

There were no injuries reported at Robert Moses State Park in connection with the accident, the park police said.

A Nassau police helicopter later took Cavallo to Nassau University Medical Center where, hospital spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg said, he was admitted in stable condition.

Cavallo said he has been flying for decades and was a U.S. government test pilot in the 1940s and flew the fastest aircraft of the era, including the P-51 Mustang.

He flew for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, precursor to NASA.

On Friday Cavallo left Easton/Newman Field in Maryland at 4:15 p.m. and mostly held to a cruising altitude of 6,700 feet as he headed for Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, said FlightAware, a website that tracks flight plans and movements.

Approaching Westhampton, Cavallo at 5:22 p.m. reported to air traffic controllers that he had a "rough running engine," the FAA said.

The Cessna 210D is a fixed-wing craft, with landing gear, and a single Cont Motor IO 520 series reciprocating engine, FAA records show. It is registered to Rovair Inc., at an address on 84th Street in Manhattan, on the Upper East Side.

Cavallo requested and was cleared for a water landing near the Robert Moses Causeway bridge that connects Fire Island to Long Island. The plane instead overshot the water and landed on the beach, coming to ground west of Parking Field 5.

Beachgoer Eileen Silverstone, 65, of Huntington, said it seemed to be a well-controlled landing.

"It looked like a glider at first but it kept getting lower and lower and I thought, that's kind of big for a glider," Silverstone said. She could see the propeller wasn't moving.

Newell and his friend Pete Misilewich, 53, of Smithtown, were having dinner in the picnic area just west of where the plane landed.

"It was pretty amazing" that Cavallo managed to weave a landing space through the boardwalk and dunes, possibly saving the lives of beachgoers, Misilewich said. " . . . He told us he couldn't land on the beach because there were too many people."

With Keith Herbert

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