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Former flight instructor charged with giving illegal lessons, officials say

Nelson Gomez is accused of giving flight instructions to student pilots without required certification.

Suffolk County Police Marine Unit divers search near

Suffolk County Police Marine Unit divers search near a partially submerged downed plane in Setauket Harbor on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016. Photo Credit: James Carbone

A flight instructor who lost his credentials after ditching a plane in a fatal accident in Setauket Harbor in 2016 has been charged in Brooklyn federal court with illegally continuing to give flight lessons.

Nelson Gomez, 39, of Howard Beach, was accompanying a student pilot and two friends on a round-trip flight to Massachusetts from Republic Airport when he ditched the plane in freezing waters after crashing just offshore about 1.5 miles from Port Jefferson.

Gomez and two of the men were rescued, but Gershon Salmon-Negron, 23, also of Queens, drowned. His body was recovered two months later.

The National Transportation Safety Board later determined that the plane’s fuel tanks were empty, and its engines had failed because it had run out of gas. They faulted Gomez for inadequately accounting for winds and flight time on the round-trip to Fitchburg, Massachusetts.

“Examination of aircraft rental and fueling records revealed that the airplane had been operated for 5.1 hours since it was last refueled,” the NTSB wrote in its final report.

“Thus it is likely that the flight instructor did not conduct adequate preflight fuel planning; had they done so and had they accounted for the wind, they would have recognized there was insufficient fuel to complete the flight and maintain the required 45 minutes of reserve fuel.”

Gomez is accused of giving flight instructions in 2016 and 2017 to student pilots at Republic Airport without required certification, which he surrendered after the 2016 accident. The certification he previously had expired in June 2016.

The government said he gave in-flight instructions to one student on 12 occasions and another on 14 occasions, falsely claiming in their logbooks that his instructor’s certification didn’t expire until 2018. 

Gomez was arrested Thursday morning and is expected to appear in federal court in Brooklyn Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

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