Craig Schum knew he had to act fast after a small plane crashed and caught fire at East Hampton Airport.
A female passenger was lying unconscious inside the M20C Mooney on Sunday. The pilot was walking around, but seemed dazed.
The Wainscott bread baker, who had heard the crash from the roadway, scaled a chain-link fence, ran over to the plane and quickly pulled the woman out.
"I thought I was carrying a dead woman," Schum, 33, said Monday. "She was totally covered in blood. I'm covered in her blood."
Just moments later, Michael Norbeck, 33, manager of Sound Aircraft Services, and Jack Gleeson, 17, a Sound employee, saw the woman about 10 feet away from the plane and helped carry her to safety.
"You could see the plane was on fire," Norbeck, of Sag Harbor, said. "It had a lot of aviation gas in it. . . . It was about 30 seconds from the time we got there that the plane was fully engulfed. . . . You could hear a 'whoosh' as it caught," he said.
The crash of the Mooney, built in 1965, had occurred at 5:15 p.m. in a wooded area about 100 yards east of Daniels Hole Road, East Hampton Town Police Chief Edward V. Ecker Jr. said.
Norbeck, Gleeson, Schum and a fourth man, Dean Foster, a local pilot, were credited by police as being first on the scene.
Norbeck said that when he got to the scene, he helped pull the people away without actually thinking about the danger.
"I expected it to be much worse when I showed up," he said. And, when the passengers were safe in the hands of the police and the ambulance crew, he and Gleeson left. "I had to go back to work," he said.
The four men were later joined by volunteers from the East Hampton, Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor fire departments and police. The victims, identified as Kimberly Brillo and her fiance, Steve Bochter, 51, both from Assonet, Mass., were later flown to Stony Brook University Hospital, where they were in stable condition Monday.
"They probably saved their lives," Ecker said.
But Schum, of Brooklyn, shunned the accolades. "No false modesty but the story should be that these two people survived. . . . That's amazing," he said.
Brillo's mother, Elaine Brillo of Fall River, Mass., said she is thankful her daughter and her daughter's fiance are alive.
"I was just happy to hear her voice and Steve's voice," Elaine Brillo said. "I say, 'Sweetheart you say your prayers, like your mom is doing.' "
Brillo has a broken arm and received stitches over her eye, her mother said. Bochter also has a broken arm and a broken knee, Elaine Brillo said.
Her daughter doesn't remember what happened, her mother said, and Bochter didn't talk about the crash.
"She was in and out of consciousness," Elaine Brillo said of her daughter, a loan officer for Sovereign Bank. "He [Bochter] didn't say much."
Just what made the plane go down remains a mystery.
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration combed the area surrounding the wreck Sunday evening and again Monday.
A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is also investigating, said the plane was heading to Taunton, Mass., about 40 miles south of Boston.
Norbeck recalled, "I saw it [leave the runway]. It was much lower than it typically would be. . . . He made a sharp bank to the left. I heard the engine. . . . It was reduced power or no power. . . . You can tell the sound an engine makes taking off. . . . He was making a steep left. . . . He hit the ground at a steep angle."
Ecker said the plane may have been trying to return to the airport at the time of the crash.
"Witness reports say the plane was lower than usual on takeoff," said Eric Weiss, the NTSB spokesman. "There was a post-crash fire that engulfed the plane."
East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who examined the scene after the crash, praised the work of both police and volunteers, and said there did not appear to be any problems with airport operations that could have led to the crash, attributing it to mechanical failure.
"Some of the firemen were amazed at what the crashed plane looked like," Wilkinson said. "It's sheet metal . . . it crumples up."
The damage was limited to the plane and field because no homes are near the crash site. Police said only brush in the vicinity was burned by the fire caused by the crash.
Norbeck said there were several buildings around the airport, many planes on the runway and people in the terminal, all of whom might have been in danger, but the curve taken by the pilot was away from all of them and appeared headed toward a runway. "He did a good thing," Norbeck said.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but police said there may have been a mechanical problem.
Investigators will examine the wreckage of the four-seat plane, as well as the aircraft's maintenance records and other factors, such as weather, to determine the cause of the crash, Weiss said.
A preliminary report will be issued within 10 business days, Weiss said, but the complete report will take anywhere from a year to 18 months.
With Zachary R. Dowdy
and Chau Lam