A single-engine plane with mechanical problems crashed onto a residential street in Bayport Sunday night, injuring the pilot and a passenger after landing hard and catching fire, officials said.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said the Piper aircraft, which was en route to upstate Orange County, crashed at 7:04 p.m. at the intersection of Second Street and Third Avenue in Bayport after the plane took off from the Bayport Aerodrome.
Witnesses and rescuers described a harrowing scene as some looked skyward to see the pilot of the four-seat Piper Cherokee in a losing battle to keep the plane aloft. No one on the ground was injured.
Several Bayport firefighters live in the neighborhood and they grabbed garden hoses to douse the flames shooting out of the plane’s nose.
“It was burning, but there were a lot of people surrounding it, trying to help,” said James Gallo, 16, who lives in the neighborhood and watched as the plane stalled twice above a neighbor’s house before crashing.
Gallo, who said he is a junior firefighter with the Bayport Fire Department, grabbed a radio and ran to the scene.
“There were a lot of first responders,” he said.
Sini said the small plane took off from the Bayport Aerodrome. The historic airport with the last all-grass airfield on Long Island is located just north of where the aircraft crashed on a street surrounded by single-family homes.
Pilot Scott Clifford, 34, of Wallkill, and passenger Michael Rome, 66, of Greenwood Lake, both in Orange County, were injured in the crash, Sini said, adding they were airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital.
Clifford was listed in serious condition, said hospital spokesman Gregory Filiano. Rome is in fair condition, he said.
The cause of the crash is unknown, Sini said, “although it does appear they attempted to return to the airport after takeoff.”
FAA officials arrived within hours of the crash and were taking part in the investigation, officials said.
Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said the plane had “engine failure upon take off” from the Islip Town-owned airport, “tried to go back and hit a tree and a utility pole.”
“No one was injured on the ground, thank goodness,” said Carpenter.
Bayport Fire Chief Robert Fleming said by the time his team arrived at the scene, the plane’s engine was on fire, with flames leaping as high as a telephone pole.
He said residents and Bayport firefighters worked to pull Clifford and Rome from the plane. Fleming said the residents and firefighters at the scene “absolutely saved their lives.”
Hours after the crash Sunday night, residents of homes on Second Street and Third Avenue — yards from where the light-colored fourseater sat upside down, its belly up and one wing destroyed, watched as investigators looked over the crash site.
Jill Rogers, 40, who lives a little more than a block away from the crash, said she was cleaning on the second floor of her home when she heard a plane fly over her house, as she has many other times.
“Then I heard what sounded like a sputtering noise, like something happened to the engine,” she said. “And then, it was deadly quiet, and then you just heard a loud bang and an explosion.”
Rogers said she raced out of her house and saw the fire, which she was intense. She said neighbors, who are local firefighters, had already rushed to the scene.
“By the time I got over here, the neighbors already had the hoses out,” she said. “They were really, really wonderful.”
Caitlin Winnicki, the wife of Newsday sports editor Hank Winnicki, heard the crash a few blocks from their home.
“You could hear something sputtering and sputtering, and low and kind of loud, then a pop and a bam,” Winnicki said, adding that their power went out briefly. “We stepped out in the street and you could see black smoke, fire and black smoke rising above the tree branches.”
Fleming said in the small, tight-knit community, “it always seems that there’s somebody around that’s from Bayport Fire Department. They’re always in the right spot.”
A former owner of the plane, Lynn Henderson of Stillwater, Minnesota, said he sold the plane about three months ago, in a sale arranged by an associate based at an airport in New Richmond, Wisconsin. The buyer was a commercial pilot who bought the plane so his son could practice to earn his instrument flight rating, Henderson said.
According to the FAA, the four-seat Piper PA-28-140 was built in 1969.
With Ted Phillips