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Officials: Small plane crash off Shoreham sends 2 to hospital

A small plane carrying two people crashed into the Long Island Sound off Shoreham at 1:25 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, according to authorities. The people were taken to Stony Brook University Hospital "for evaluation," a Suffolk fire rescue dispatcher said. (Credit: James Carbone, News 12 Long Island)

This story was reported by Valerie Bauman, Nicole Fuller, David Olson and Laura Figueroa. It was written by Fuller.

Two men in a small plane that crashed on the Long Island Sound Sunday clung to a rock in frigid waters before they were rescued off Shoreham, authorities said.

Suffolk police identified the pair as pilot Inderpal Chhabra, 48, a prominent physician who resides in Woodbury, and passenger David Tobachnik, 59, of Coram.

They had just taken off from MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma aboard the single-engine Piper en route to Massachusetts, according to a spokesman for the FAA.

Authorities said apparent engine trouble caused the 1:25 p.m. crash.

Both men were plucked from the water by Rocky Point firefighters and transported to Stony Brook University Hospital. Chhabra and Tobachnik were treated for exposure and other injuries, but were expected to survive, officials said.

“They were happy to see us. They were very cold,” said Rocky Point Fire Chief Bill Lattman. “That was our main concern, with them being in the water. When we got them on the boat, we wrapped them up in blankets.”

Lattman, who called the two “very lucky,” said when firefighters arrived the plane was almost completely submerged, save for its tail.

The men had apparently swam some 20 to 30 feet away to the large boulder and “were in very good shape,” when firefighters hoisted them out of the water and onto their 18-foot rescue boat, the chief said. One witness said the men swam out to the rock after standing on the plane’s wings before it sank.

“They did have some cold exposure due to the water,” said Lattman. “One was complaining of some back and neck pain. And one had a laceration to the arm. ...We’re happy that everything worked out for the people.”

Chhabra runs a private primary care medical practice from New Hyde Park, according to reports, and has served as a trustee of the Gurdwara Sahib, a Sikh temple in Glen Cove.

On Sunday evening, Chhabra’s wife, Nina Chhabra, said her husband was resting at home and was “too tired” to recount his experience.

She said he did not sustain any injuries and was “fine,” noting that her husband and his friend Tobachnik had set off earlier in the day “on a small trip to have lunch.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement Sunday that the Beech BE36 single-engine aircraft took off from MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, bound for the Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in Westfield, Massachusetts. After experiencing engine trouble, it crashed about a mile and half west of Shoreham, FAA spokesman Jim Peters said in an email.

“The pilot reported an engine power-related problem,” the FAA statement said. The agency said it will investigate the crash.

It was unclear how long the men were in the water before being rescued. A witness said it was about 45 minutes.

A 45-foot vessel from U.S. Coast Guard Station New Haven responded to the crash. “By the time we arrived on scene, they had already been removed,” said Strohmaier.

Shoreham resident Gary Berezuk, who lives near the site of the crash, said he heard a sound “like a truck hitting something in the road” on Sunday afternoon before he looked out his kitchen window and realized a small, white plane had crashed in the water.

He said the plane’s occupants stood on the plane wings before it became submerged in the frigid water, then clung to a rock for about 45 minutes until they were rescued.

“I heard something as I was, you know, sitting in my house and I didn’t think anything of it until . . . I went to the kitchen window and I saw a plane in the water,” he said “I said, ‘Oh my God,’ And that’s when I called 911.”

The plane was still above the surface of the water by the time he got out to his backyard, which sits on a cliff overlooking where the crash happened. Berezuk said he saw the two people standing on the wings of the plane.

“Then the plane started to nose-dive into the water, you know, from the weight of the engine, and slowly went in and started sinking,” he said. “And that’s when they had to jump off and luckily they got onto the rock.”

The plane became almost completely submerged within five minutes, he said.

There have been at least eight small plane crashes on Long Island in 2016 — the most in a single year in Nassau and Suffolk counties since 2012.

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