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NTSB: Pilot in fatal Shirley crash warned not to fly plane

An official examines the wreckage Aug. 20, the

An official examines the wreckage Aug. 20, the day after the single-engine plane crashed in Shirley. (Aug. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: James Carbone

An Orient man killed along with a passenger in a plane crash in Shirley last August was warned before takeoff that the craft should not be flown, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report.

On the day of the crash, a mechanic, who was not identified by name in the report, advised plane owner and pilot David J. McElroy that the aircraft had a faulty tachometer, NTSB officials said in the report released June 18. A preliminary report shortly after the Aug. 19, 2012, crash said the plane was flying at a "slow" and "anemic" pace.

NTSB officials, who are expected to issue a final report on the crash in four to six weeks, said a friend of McElroy's -- also not named in the latest report -- told investigators the single-engine Socata TB10 had problems climbing three days before the crash.

Erik Unhjem, the lone survivor of the crash, said in an interview that he was unaware of the conversation between the mechanic and pilot. Unhjem, of upstate Goshen, said he was told the tachometer was "erratic" and said he would not have been on board had he known the instrument -- which measures engine revolutions -- was faulty.

Shortly after it took off about 11:55 a.m. from Brookhaven Calabro Airport, the plane slammed into trees and a construction trash bin. McElroy, 53, and Unhjem's wife, Jane Unhjem, 60, were killed. Erik Unhjem, now 62, was critically injured.

According to the report, the mechanic later told his lawyer that he "never thought" McElroy would fly the airplane.

McElroy had taken the couple on a test flight, intending to sell them the plane, when it crashed, the report states.

The report also states McElroy's unnamed friend accompanied him on a flight in the plane three days before the crash.

The friend told investigators the airplane "would not climb properly" and never reached an altitude above 300 to 400 feet, according to the report. The friend also heard McElroy complain to the mechanic that the tachometer was inoperative and that there was "something wrong with the power," preventing the airplane from climbing normally, the report said.

Erik Unhjem, a licensed single-engine pilot, said he tried to fly the plane but had a rough start and turned the controls over to McElroy, who continued with the takeoff. But the airplane did not climb and was "skimming the treetops," Unhjem told investigators. After reaching an altitude of about 150 feet, the airplane "broke to the right and entered a classic spin," Unhjem said in the report.

A representative for the family of McElroy could not be reached.

NTSB spokesman Terry Williams declined to elaborate on the report. "The investigation is still ongoing," he said.

Brookhaven Councilman Dan Panico, whose district includes Shirley and the town-owned airport, said of the reported warning to the pilot, "If the circumstances are correct, this is an unfortunate tragedy. If true, it's extremely disappointing."


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