Plane in North Lindenhurst fatal crash had cockpit smoke in earlier flight, report says
The single-engine aircraft that crashed in a residential North Lindenhurst neighborhood this month, killing one person and injuring two others, had smoke in the cockpit during a flight two months earlier, according to a preliminary crash report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Shortly before the March 5 crash, the pilot issued mayday calls after reporting a similar condition in the cockpit.
The NTSB report does not come to any conclusions on what caused the Piper PA-28 plane to go down near Wellwood Avenue as it was returning to Republic Airport in East Farmingdale that day. But a review of the plane's logbooks by federal investigators revealed that, according to a Jan. 16 mechanic's entry, the pilot had reported "smoke in cockpit during flight on 01/07/2023. After troubleshooting, flown and tested. Aircraft returned to service with no smoke.”
A potential 'smoking gun' in prior flight
The January incident may have been a warning sign of future problems with the plane, said Shem Malmquist, an accident investigator and visiting professor at Florida Institute of Technology.
WHAT TO KNOW
- A report by the National Transportation Safety Board on the single-engine plane that crashed in North Lindenhurst on March 5 said the pilot of a January flight reported smoke in the cockpit.
- The pilot of the plane that went down on March 5 reported a similar condition shortly before the plane crashed, killing one person and critically injuring two.
- The NTSB report did not make a final determination as to the cause of the crash.
"It’s a real concern," Malmquist said. "An in-flight fire is one of the most dangerous things that can happen … This is a pretty good smoking gun given there was smoke before.”
NTSB regulations require an immediate report of in-flight fires, but not necessarily reports of smoke, he said.
David Tochen, a former general counsel for the NTSB, said the incident raises obvious red flags and "points to the adequacy of the maintenance and the inspection that was done."
But Michael Canders, aviation director at Farmingdale State College, said previous reports of smoke would have been reviewed by maintenance crews, who may have been unable to duplicate the problem.
“It’s not uncommon for a plane to return to service if a pilot reports something and maintenance looks closely and doesn’t find any indication of wires touching or burnt insulation," Canders said.
The aircraft, manufactured in 1980, underwent a 100-hour inspection on Jan. 4 and a 50-hour inspection on Feb. 27, the report said.
Roma Gupta, 63, of Whitehouse Township, New Jersey, was killed in the crash while her daughter, Reeva Gupta, 33, of St. Davids, Pennsylvania, and the pilot, Fayzul Chowdhury, 23, of the Bronx, each suffered severe burns. The two remain in critical condition at Stony Brook University Hospital.
The Guptas booked the flight with the Danny Waizman Flight School at Republic, where Chowdhury worked for nearly a year.
The flight, which investigators said was a gift from Reeva Gupta to her mother, was a demonstration to determine if they wanted to take a flying lesson, said Oleh Dekajlo of East Meadow, an attorney for the flight school, which owned and operated the plane.
Dekajlo called the January incident "a coincidence and a red herring," adding that the plane was deemed safe to fly and returned to service on Jan. 16.
“It’s a preliminary report that raises more questions than answers,” he said, adding that the plane was “mechanically sound” and had met all required inspections.
On the day of the crash, the plane took seven practice training maneuvers, Dekajlo said.
“We’re looking to see what caused the fire,” he said. “It may be a mystery for some period due to heat and fire damage.”
Pilot followed 'emergency procedures'
Investigators said that on March 5, Chowdhury was on his final approach to Republic when he reported smoke in the cockpit and requested an immediate landing. The tower instructed Chowdhury to continue straight for the runway and he advised the tower he was shutting off the radios, the report said.
Moments later, Chowdhury issued a frantic "mayday" transmission and the plane descended rapidly, crashing and erupting into flames between a commercial property and a railroad bed near a residential neighborhood. The engine, investigators said, was operating until contact with the ground.
While the report did not conclude the cause of the smoke, it appeared from the report that the pilot followed emergency procedures used during an electrical fire, Canders said.
“You don’t want any components of electricity feeding the fire," he said. “There’s not many reasons to turn off radios. They’re essential equipment during flight.”
NTSB investigators said the wreckage spanned 470 feet while the initial impact point was a tree about 60 feet from the ground.
Roughly 350 feet from the wreckage path, two boats on trailers were destroyed by burning fuel that spilled from the plane as it passed overhead, investigators said.
The left wing, with its main landing gear attached, came to rest 50 feet from the wreckage and was damaged by the impact and fire, the report said. The right wing was still attached but also damaged in the crash. The engine, still attached to the airframe, "exhibited extensive thermal damage and some impact damage," the NTSB said.
The instrument panel, carburetor, cockpit, cabin area, roof, tail, seat frame and flight control cables were also heavily damaged by the fire, the report found.
Federal Aviation Administration records show Chowdhury, who had accrued 330.5 hours of flight experience, held a commercial pilot's license for single, multi-engine and instrument airplanes. He also held a flight instructor certificate for single-engine planes, records show.
A probable cause determination for the crash, experts said, could take up to a year.
With Matthew Chayes