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NTSB: Plane in Shirley crash 'slow' at take off

The crash of this single-engine plane Aug. 19

The crash of this single-engine plane Aug. 19 into a residential neighborhood in Shirley killed two of the three people aboard, authorities said, and the lone survivor is critically injured. (Aug. 20, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

The airplane that crashed in Shirley two weeks ago appeared to have a properly working engine and control mechanism, yet was flying at a "slow" and "anemic" pace, a preliminary federal report said.

The National Transportation Safety Board on Saturday updated its findings on the fiery crash that killed two people aboard the single-engine plane Aug. 19.

The report is the first of three in an ongoing investigation to determine what caused the small plane to crash into a tree and plunge into a construction Dumpster in a residential neighborhood.

Testimony from eyewitnesses and a mechanic who saw the plane after its last annual inspection in late June are included in the report.

Killed in the crash were David J. McElroy, 53, of Orient, and a passenger, Jane Unhjem, 60. Unhjem's husband, Erik, 61, was critically injured. McElroy had reportedly taken the Unhjems, of Goshen, N.Y., on a test flight, intending to sell the plane to the couple. The report did not identify by name who was at the controls, referring only to the "pilot/owner."

No flight plan was filed for the trip, according to the report.

A witness told investigators that the plane got a slow start, taking "almost the entire length of the runway before taking off." The plane, a Socata TB10, took off from Brookhaven Calabro Airport, where the runway was 4,222 feet long, the report said.

Brian Rayner, senior air safety investigator with the NTSB, said he was unable to comment directly on the report. The final cause of the crash probably would take a year or more to determine, he said.

Full maintenance records for the plane and details on the pilot's flight history have been the most challenging to gather, he said.

"There's a void of information there," Rayner said. "But we are going to track this down."

The plane's cockpit was severely damaged by fire but investigators were able to determine that the wires that control the plane and the engine were in good working order, Ben Struck, senior flight instructor at Farmingdale State College, said Saturday after reading the report.

"It wasn't an engine failure that caused this accident," said Struck, who is not involved in the investigation. Radar data from the Federal Aviation Administration showed the airplane climbed to 200 feet mean sea level and accelerated to 63 knots groundspeed before the radar target was lost in the vicinity of the crash site.

McElroy held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single-engine land. His most-recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued on Aug. 1, 2003, when he reported 18 total hours of flight experience, the report said.

The report said the FAA issued a ferry permit on June 20, 2012, to relocate the airplane for an annual inspection and other maintenance at Calabro Airport. The mechanic who ferried the airplane said there was nothing wrong with the performance and handling of the airplane on that ferry flight, the report said.

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