Minutes after taking off from East Hampton Airport with his fiancee, pilot Steven Bochter said his single-engine plane lost power and his instincts kicked in.
Bochter, 51, looked for a place to land, but all he could see were tall trees. He quickly maneuvered the plane so it would land on its belly, not its nose. He hoped the move would lessen the severity of the impact.
"We fell out of the sky," Bochter said.
Bochter and Kim Brillo, both of Assonet, Mass., escaped the Sunday afternoon crash in Wainscott with cuts, bruises, and leg and arm fractures.
"We're very, very lucky," said Brillo, 34, "I didn't think we'd walk away from this."
Tuesday, as the couple was getting ready to leave Stony Brook University Hospital, Bochter said the crash-preparation scenario he had played out in his head countless times helped when he needed it most.
Just before his M20C Mooney went down about 5:15 p.m., Bochter said, the engine's pitch changed and the engine died. He radioed the control tower and declared an emergency and was able keep the plane level before it crashed.
The plane caught fire, Bochter said. He unbuckled himself and the unconscious Brillo, pushed back their seats and pulled her from the burning wreckage.
The last thing Brillo said she remembered was the plane brushing the treetops. "I am just blessed and thankful that we were able to get out of it," said Brillo, a bank loan officer. The crash occurred about 100 yards east of Daniels Hole Road, police said.
Bochter, a motorcycle dealer and a pilot for three decades, owned the four-seat plane for 13 years. He suspects mechanical failure caused the crash.
"Engines just don't shut off for no reason," he said.
Investigators will examine the wreckage as well as the aircraft's maintenance records and other factors, such as weather, to determine the cause of the crash, said a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board. A preliminary report will be issued within 10 business days, but the complete report will take anywhere from a year to 18 months.
The couple was flying back to Taunton, Mass., after spending the afternoon in East Hampton, Brillo said. After the crash, four men rushed to the scene and helped carry Brillo and lead Bochter out of the woods.
There are differing accounts of the rescue, but Tuesday police said it was Bochter who pulled Brillo out of the plane and onto its wing. It was then, police said, that Craig Schum, 33, of Wainscott, carried Brillo from the wing and set her on the ground, away from the burning aircraft. Two other good Samaritans carried Brillo from the woods, police said.
"Everyone who helped, I thanked them very much," Bochter said.
With Mitchell Freedman