Plane crash near Republic Airport leaves passenger dead, 2 injured, NTSB says
This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes, Lisa L. Colangelo, Brinley Hineman, Michael O'Keeffe and Darwin Yanes. It was written by Hineman and O'Keeffe.
The single-engine plane that crashed Sunday in North Lindenhurst, killing one passenger and critically injuring two others, including the pilot, was a pleasure flight booked through Groupon by a mother and daughter from New Jersey, according to the attorney of the plane's operator and the National Transportation Safety Board.
The NTSB, which is investigating the crash near a residential neighborhood, said the pilot of the Piper PA 28 plane declared an emergency while returning to Republic Airport in East Farmingdale just before 3 p.m.
Surveillance video from nearby buildings shows the plane descending and colliding with trees and the ground before its final approach course to the airport, said the NTSB, which will be recovering the wreckage before bringing it to an off-site facility for further investigation.
Oleh N. Dekajlo of East Meadow, the attorney for Danny Waizman Flight School at Republic Airport, which owns and operates the plane, told Newsday on Monday that the plane had undergone 50-hour and 100-hour inspections on Feb. 27 and Jan. 4, respectively.
“It was an experienced, certified flight instructor that was doing what they call a demonstration flight," Dekajlo said. "So it was, apparently, a mother and her daughter that were onboard. And, apparently, there was an emergency that was declared.”
The identities of the deceased and injured passengers have not been released. A preliminary Federal Aviation Administration report on Monday had erroneously indicated that the person killed in the crash was a member of the flight crew.
The cockpit recording provides a window into the harrowing moments before the plane went down.
In the recording, published by LiveATC.net, which publishes air traffic control broadcasts from control towers and radar facilities, the pilot tells the air traffic controller that there is "smoke in the cockpit" and that he requires immediate landing.
The tower then tells the pilot to continue straight and that he's clear to land on runway 32, which is about two miles away.
After about nine seconds of silence the frantic pilot makes repeated "mayday" requests while indicating there is a fire on board.
The pilot is not heard again as the tower reports an "emergency in progress" while another voice says there is a plume of smoke about a mile from the end of the runway.
Dekajlo said Danny Waizman "is considered one of the safest flight schools at Republic. This is not a fly-by-night, with one airplane, running out of his home. It actually has a physical office, and they have a fleet of aircraft that are very well maintained"
But this is not the first crash for the flight school in recent years.
In April 2019, a single-engine Cessna that was rented to the flight school crashed in a Valley Stream neighborhood with three men on board after running out of fuel in dense fog.
The pilot and passengers, all from South Korea, walked away virtually unscathed and no one on the ground was hurt, even though the plane came to rest just feet from a home after clipping a church and getting tangled in power lines.
Dekajlo said the pilot in Sunday's crash is in critical condition and is a 23-year-old from the Bronx. The passengers were a mother, 63, and daughter, 33, from New Jersey, who were taking a pleasure flight booked via Groupon. He declined to identify the three individuals.
Groupon didn’t immediately respond to questions about its deal with the Danny Waizman Flight School.
The plane took off from Republic with three people on board at 2:18 p.m. The pilot reported smoke in the cockpit in a mayday call to air traffic controllers at Republic shortly before it crashed at about 3 p.m., according to John Rowan, the Suffolk County Police Department’s chief of detectives.
“That aircraft was attempting to return to Republic Airport, where unfortunately it did not make it,” Rowan said during a news conference near the scene around Wellwood Avenue shortly after the crash. The mayday call was the plane's final communication with the tower, Rowan said.
“My understanding preliminarily is that they were on a sightseeing tour,” he added. “They had been airborne for sometime and this was their final approach or their attempted final approach to the runway.”
Nobody on the ground was hurt, said Rowan.
Suffolk police did not provide an immediate update about the crash Monday morning or a timeline for when the pilot may be publicly identified.
Two were treated at the scene for third-degree burns, said Jamie Atkinson, the deputy coordinator of Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services. They were later transported to Stony Brook University Hospital via police medevac.
“The third victim succumbed to their injuries here at the scene,” Rowan said.
Rowan said the plane crashed close to buildings in a residential neighborhood. "We are very fortunate that nobody else on the ground was injured; obviously, it’s a very tragic event. … We’re just happy that nobody else was hurt," he said.
Emin Aydin of North Lindenhurst saw thick black smoke rising in the air as he returned home from food shopping. The two survivors already had been removed from the plane, he said, and one victim "was all burned."
He and others tried to wrap them with blankets and get them to safety.
The airplane landed about 300 feet south of the Long Island Rail Road tracks in North Lindenhurst, according to MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan. The crash caused no damage to the tracks.
Tom Altieri was getting out of his vehicle around 3 p.m. to enter his East June Street home in North Lindenhurst when he said he noticed a single-engine plane unusually “low and slow.” Altieri, who has lived in his home for 20 years, said he’s used to the constant sight of planes overhead, but he had never seen one this low to the ground.
Within seconds of seeing the plane pass over him, he said he heard “a somewhat large explosion” followed by a plume of smoke. By 3:45 p.m., the smoke had dissipated, he said.
“I knew immediately it was that plane,” he said.
With Sunday’s beautiful weather, Mahida Ali had the windows of her home open to enjoy the 52-degree day when she noticed clouds of smoke in the air around 2:55 p.m.
She first thought a house was on fire or maybe a neighbor was celebrating the good weather with a barbecue.
But “the smoke was just too much for it to be a barbecue,” she said, adding that her husband Hafiz Ulhaq went to investigate, where he discovered a throng of bystanders and a swarm of emergency services responding to the crashed plane.
The couple said they’re used to planes passing their Bolton Street home every 5 to 10 minutes. Sometimes, they fly so low, Ulhaq said he’s worried they could “land on our roof."