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Pilot's daughters thank Shirley residents

David J. McElroy, 53, of Orient, owner of

David J. McElroy, 53, of Orient, owner of of the single-engine Socata TB10 and Jane Unhjem, 60, an assistant school superintendent from upstate Goshen were killed Sunday August 19, 2012. (Aug. 21, 2012) Credit: Handout

The daughters of the man who died in a fiery plane crash Sunday in Shirley that killed a school administrator and left her husband critically injured expressed their appreciation Tuesday to the Helene Avenue neighbors who tried to rescue their father.

Dana McElroy, 25, and her sister, Kaitlin McElroy, 19, both of Orient, acknowledged, in a phone interview Tuesday, the efforts of residents who rushed to help the victims. Some used garden hoses to douse flames on the victims and others tried to free their father, David J. McElroy of Orient, but were turned back by intense heat, witnesses said.

Kaitlin McElroy said the neighbors showed "strength and courage" in trying to save her dad. "We're so grateful and appreciative," she said.

"It's unbelievable that it happened to them," Kaitlin McElroy said.

David J. McElroy, 53, owned the Socata TB10 single-engine plane that crashed on Helene Avenue shortly after takeoff Sunday morning from Brookhaven Calabro Airport in Shirley. McElroy was killed along with Jane Unhjem, 60, of upstate Goshen. Unhjem's husband, Erik, 61, was critically injured and is being treated at Stony Brook University Hospital.

The NTSB, which is investigating, has not determined who was at the plane's controls, but the daughters said they believe their father was the pilot.

The upstate couple had flown to Shirley, with Erik Unhjem piloting, to inspect McElroy's plane for possible purchase. They were on a test flight when the crash occurred, investigators said.

After takeoff, the plane pulled up to avoid hitting a house before slamming into a large oak tree and crashing onto Helene Avenue upside down, witnesses said.

The sisters said that a group of neighbors traveled to visit them at a relative's home to express their condolences.

"We're thankful and appreciative that they would come visit and share that experience," Dana McElroy said.

The sisters described their father as a Sayville native who has seven children, ranging from 26 to 8. They said he was a businessman and investor who developed a passion for aviation while living in Florida. He brought his flying hobby with him to the North Fork after returning to Long Island six years ago.

"He was always smiling," Dana McElroy said. "He always kept the mood upbeat."

Monday, National Transportation Safety Board senior air safety investigator Brian Rayner said he was attempting to review the plane's maintenance records and resolve "discrepancies" in a recent maintenance inspection of the plane.The NTSB investigation is expected to take 12 to 18 months to complete.

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