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Small-plane crashes down, fatalities constant

Cyril McLavin, 51, of Fresh Meadows, Queens, piloting

Cyril McLavin, 51, of Fresh Meadows, Queens, piloting the Global Swift airplane on the way back from a flight upstate. McLavin was found in the cockpit of a plane which crashed and plunged into the waters not far from East Moriches' Spadaro Airport, from where it had just departed on Oct. 20, 2012. Credit: Gregory Semendinger

The overall number of small-plane crashes is shrinking, recent government studies show, but the number of people who perish in them has remained constant.

Saturday's small-plane crash on Long Island -- a two-seat Globe Swift GC-1A that fell from the sky into the waters of Moriches Inlet -- followed two other local small-plane crashes during the summer.

NTSB crash investigator Tim Monville spent a second day in Suffolk County Monday investigating the cause of the crash that killed two Queens men, Cyril McLavin, 51, of Fresh Meadows, and Andrew Messana, 72, of Bayside.

The Government Accountability Office, in a report to Congress, analyzed 14,000 crashes from 1999 to 2011 and found the number involving general aviation -- noncommercial civil aircraft -- fell by 24 percent, but the number of fatalities was roughly the same.

According to statistics kept by the National Transportation Safety Board, there were 457 general-aviation or small-plane fatalities in 271 crashes in fiscal year 2011, and the same number of fatalities in 270 crashes during fiscal year 2010.

Pilot error was cited in 70 percent of the crashes between 1999 and 2011, and loss of control during flight was the most common event in all the crashes, the GAO said.

FAA spokesman Keith Holloway in Washington said the plane that crashed Saturday took off from Spadaro Airport in East Moriches and was headed for Republic Airport in Farmingdale.

"There were three witnesses that the FAA interviewed," Holloway said. "They heard sputtering sounds coming from the aircraft. [Crash investigators] . . . are going to look into that."

The plane was heading west, and about 30 feet above ground when it pitched up and then plunged into the inlet, Holloway said.

Monday, investigators began examining the plane's airframe and engine, Holloway said. It could be next week before a preliminary report on the crash is issued.

The other small-plane accidents on Long Island during the summer:

On Aug. 26, an M20c Mooney crashed at East Hampton Airport and two people suffered injuries; and on Aug. 19, a Socata TB10 crashed after takeoff from Brookhaven Calabro Airport and landed in a Shirley neighborhood, killing two people in the plane.

In the GAO study, most of the fatal general-aviation flights involved pilots flying on personal trips. The study also found that 44 percent of the pilots in the crashes had fewer than 100 hours in the accident aircraft. The GAO recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration require collection of general-aviation aircraft flight experience data. Currently, the survey is voluntary for general-aviation pilots.

The FAA, the GAO found, does not maintain "certain key information" about general-aviation pilots, including how many are actively flying each year and whether they participate in recurrent training other a pilot proficiency program known as WINGS. Without hard numbers of pilot flight hours, the FAA can't determine the potential effect of the various sources and types of training on pilot behavior, competency, and the likelihood of an accident, the GAO found.

The lack of pilot data "also makes it difficult to identify the root causes of accidents attributed to pilot error and determine appropriate risk mitigation opportunities," the report found.

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