Republic Airport in East Farmingdale is New York State's busiest under...

Republic Airport in East Farmingdale is New York State's busiest under the general aviation designation, which applies to airports with no scheduled passenger service and less than 2,500 passengers boarding annually, according to the FAA. Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely

Residents of a North Lindenhurst neighborhood less than a mile south of Republic Airport in East Farmingdale are accustomed to seeing a heavy flow of air traffic overhead.

Sometimes, neighbors joke, the parade of single- and twin-engine planes and small, private jets swoops so low, you can almost see the color of a pilot's eyes. In the back of their minds though, said several neighbors near where 5th Street and Wellwood Avenue meet, the thought of one of those aircraft crashing and burning near their homes has long loomed.

So when a Piper PA-28 with a pilot and two passengers on board did just that March 5 on a brisk, sunny Sunday afternoon, the fatal crash confirmed the fears for some longtime residents of the risk associated with living so close to the busiest public general aviation airport in New York State.

“Every time a plane goes over," said Martin Covias, 65, who has lived in his North Lindenhurst home not far from the crash site for 30 years, "you think whether it might hit the house."

WHAT TO KNOW

  • March 5's fatal crash of a single-engine plane less than a mile south of Republic Airport confirmed the fears of some longtime residents about the risk of living so close to the airport.
  • Republic is the busiest public general aviation airport in New York State.
  • There have been about a dozen crashes in the past decade in the vicinity surrounding the airport, according to the National Transportation Safety Bureau.
“I would never move, but it’s a little upsetting," said Martin Covias,...

“I would never move, but it’s a little upsetting," said Martin Covias, 65, of last Sunday's plane crash in his North Lindenhurst neighborhood.

Credit: Barry Sloan

Operating in an area steeped in aviation history, Republic has carved its own niche since it opened in the mid-1920s. It's grown from beginnings as an airfield primarily serving the Island's burgeoning aviation manufacturing industry to what it is a century later: Long Island's hub for private pilots, private jets, many of them for corporate use, and flight schools.

The pilot of the plane that crashed in North Lindenhurst, who survived and remained hospitalized Sunday, is a licensed flight instructor based at the airport. 

Third-busiest public airport in NY

Republic is the third-busiest public airport in the state in terms of total flights, behind only Kennedy and LaGuardia, despite having no commercial flights for the public and its general configuration changing relatively little in the past half century, said Kenneth Neubeck of Patchogue, who serves as president of the Long Island Republic Airport Historical Society.

The Federal Aviation Administration credits the airport as the state's busiest under the general aviation designation, which applies to airports with no scheduled passenger service and less than 2,500 passengers boarding annually.

Last year, Republic saw 238,755 flights, its third-busiest year, behind 1998 and 1999. Air traffic has been on the rise for the past decade, with about 50,000 more flights since a decade ago, according to the FAA.

But plane crashes so close to Republic are still rare, according to the FAA and residents living near the airport who insist they're cautiously staying put — the comfort and the convenience of living so close to the Long Island Expressway, the LIRR and major shopping far outweighing the long odds of another small plane landing outside their homes.

“I would never move, but it’s a little upsetting," said Covias, an aviation buff who runs a Boeing 707 fan web page. "I just worry about a jet coming down and knocking out the whole neighborhood."

Before the Piper crashed, its pilot, Fayzul Chowdhury, 23, of the Bronx, had been preparing to land at Republic following a 39-minute flight, when smoke in the cockpit forced him to send a “mayday!” distress call to the control tower and request clearance for an immediate landing. The plane went into a nose-dive, plunging to the ground in a wooded area tucked between railroad tracks and single-family homes, and less than a mile from the southern tip of a Republic runway.

The burning wreckage of a Piper PA-28 after it crashed...

The burning wreckage of a Piper PA-28 after it crashed March 5 in North Lindenhurst. Credit: Paul Mazza

The crash killed Roma Gupta, 63, of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey.

Chowdhury and Roma Gupta’s daughter, Reeva Gupta, 33, of St. Davids, Pennsylvania, remained in critical condition Sunday at Stony Brook University Hospital. The Guptas had booked a flight with the Danny Waizman Flight School at the airport and were in the air for 39 minutes before the plane went down, officials said.

Wreckage hit the roof

Pat Scally lives at the end of a block off Wellwood next to the woods where the plane crashed. Several days afterward, the wreckage was gone but yellow police tape still cordoned off the LIRR tracks at the end of a dead-end street — along with a grove of trees with branches sheared off, a reminder of the crash.

Scally said she was in the shower when a piece of the falling plane hit her roof. Her son called to tell her about the crash.

“I went to my front window and I saw an explosion with flames coming up,” she said. “I knew I heard something hit my house. I didn’t know what it was.”

It turned out to be a chunk of the plane. The debris left a two-foot hole in her roof and wreckage scattered in her backyard, said Scally, adding that she initially considered evacuating because of fear the woods would catch fire. Suffolk police taped off her backyard and later recovered the debris, she said.

After more than 46 years in the same home, Scally said, she's used to the steady procession of planes flying above while heading to and from Republic. The noise always has bothered her and it seems like more of the planes these days are larger jets, Scally said, but the possibility of an actual crash near her house seemed remote.

“I thought about it, but it never happened. Now I’m scared to death after it happened,” she said. “I’m not leaving; it’s just scary.”

In the past decade, about a dozen planes have either crashed within five miles of Republic or had other accidents, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. 

Second fatal crash in decade

Last week's crash was the second with a fatality near Republic since 2018.

Officials investigate the fatal 2018 crash of a World War...

Officials investigate the fatal 2018 crash of a World War II-era GEICO Skytyper plane on Northcote Drive in Melville. Credit: Barry Sloan

That May, the pilot of a small vintage GEICO Skytypers plane who recently had performed in the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach was killed in a fiery crash when his vintage North American T-6 Texan went down along Northcote Drive in Melville, hitting the street a few hundred feet from a row of homes. The pilot, a former U.S. Navy aviator, had taken off from Republic and was the only person on board. No one on the ground was injured.

An NTSB investigation found the pilot, who was attempting to join other members of the aerial team in formation, did not fully recover from a downward spiral of the plane.

In 2019, a single-engine plane with only a pilot on board crashed in the woods off the Southern State Parkway. And last November, a twin-engine plane had engine trouble on approach to Republic and crashed into a row of gravestones at Beth Moses Cemetery in Pinelawn. The pilot and a passenger both suffered minor injuries.

But occasional crashes shouldn't equate to a major safety concern about aircraft using Republic, Neubeck of the historical society said.

“You really have to take a step back and collect the data,” said Neubeck, who co-authored a book on airplane manufacturing in Farmingdale. “If anything, the FAA has been trying to make the airport more compliant with the regulations as far as the end of the runway and expanding the safe area around the runway.”

Funding for improvements

The airport received $24 million in federal and state funding in 2015 to realign the main runway, improve signage and lighting and to install a perimeter security fence, records show. Republic covers 526 acres and was originally developed by investor Sherman Fairchild in the mid-1920s, with its flying fields used during the next four decades to test and build planes from several major manufacturers, including Grumman.

Republic would change hands several more times, eventually becoming a general aviation airport in 1966 before being sold for $25 million to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which at the time could own and operate regional airports. Its ownership was transferred to the State Department of Transportation in 1983 to promote economic development in the region.

"Republic Airport is a vital economic engine for Long Island, generating nearly $214 million in economic activity each year. The Airport strictly adheres to all FAA safety regulations and employs noise abatement procedures to minimize disturbances to local residents," according to a statement from the Department of Transportation. "The airport is committed to being a good neighbor and to working with the local community to ensure that this important travel and economic hub continues to safely benefit the entire region."

The airport saw 68,000 more flights last year than Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and 77,000 more than Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. Although Republic's volume of passengers is lower than both Teterboro and MacArthur, it records more takeoffs and landings each year of small planes, jets and private pilots.

Michael Canders, director of Farmingdale State College’s aviation center at Republic, said pilots are trained for crash scenarios, such as engine failure and how to glide to emergency landings in clear open spaces like fields or roads, also noting the relative rarity of crashes.

“It is a popular place for takeoffs and landings and those homes nearby will hear more noise,” Canders said. “I don’t want anyone to be frightened, but if you’re near an airport, there’s more risk.”

Recent crashes near Republic

March 5, 2023 — The crash of a single-engine Piper PA-28 kills one on board and critically injures two as it approached the East Farmingdale airport.

Nov. 5, 2022 — A twin-engine plane with engine trouble on approach to Republic crashes into a row of gravestones at Beth Moses Cemetery in Pinelawn. The pilot and a passenger both suffer minor injuries.

Dec. 28, 2019 — A single-engine Mooney M20R crashes on final approach to Republic in a wooded area near the Southern State Parkway, about a mile south of the airport. The pilot, flying solo, survives.

May 30, 2018 — The pilot of a GEICO Skytypers plane is killed when his vintage North American T-6 Texan crashes in a residential Melville neighborhood after taking off from Republic.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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