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Small plane crashes in East Quogue but pilot unharmed

A pilot attempting to make an emergency landing

A pilot attempting to make an emergency landing at Gabreski Airport after his engine failed crashed in shrubs off County Road 104 in East Quogue near the airport Saturday afternoon. Credit: Christopher Sabella

A 75-year-old pilot who crashed in East Quogue when his plane’s engine failed managed to glide to a nearby runway believing he would land safely until he actually touched down, he recounted to Newsday.

"I just didn’t have enough altitude or glide distance to make it to Gabreski airport. I was very, very close, right to the fence and onto the airport ground ... the plane just didn’t have the energy to get over the fence. That’s what makes me sad, how close I got," said Elliot Meisel, an attorney who has been flying since 1999.

Meisel had taken off from East Hampton Airport earlier Saturday when his single-engine Cessna 172 Skyhawk suddenly lost power at 1 p.m. and slammed into some shrubs near the runway at Francis S. Gabreski Airport on County Route 104, south of Sunrise Highway, New York State police said in a statement

Meisel said he was headed to Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, where the plane was scheduled to get an annual inspection, but he was forced to shift plans when he ran into unexpected trouble.

"Everything was operating properly when I took off and I don’t know why it seized. I went through a checklist of items to try and get going and to maximize the glide for the plane and it just wasn’t quite enough. If I had been a little bit higher or a little bit closer or the engine failed a little bit later, it would’ve been an entirely different outcome," he said.

During the ordeal, Meisel said he remained levelheaded and focused on finding a clean landing area away from people.

"There was some flat terrain but the airport looked reachable, I genuinely thought I was going to make it to the very last minute," he said. "I didn’t have time to be scared, I was concentrating on what I had to do."

He immediately contacted the air tower at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton and told them he needed to make an emergency landing.

"They cleared the runway for me and there were emergency vehicles for me there when I arrived."

Meisel, who was alone in the plane, was able to walk away from the accident without a scratch.

"It’s not a miracle, planes are generally very safe, it was just an unfortunate incident," he said. "There are seat belts, there are also air bags in the plane and they prevented me from having any injury whatsoever."

While he said he and his family will first celebrate his being alive, he is disappointed to learn about the status of his plane.

"It’s finished," he said, admitting the incident probably won’t keep him from going back up to the skies.

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash along with the Federal Aviation Administration, according to a spokesperson for the NTSB.

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