An Orient man who owned the small propeller plane that crashed Sunday on a residential Shirley side street was identified as one of two people aboard who were killed, although the cause of the crash remains a mystery.
David J. McElroy, 53, had registered the single-engine Socata TB10 to his Florida address, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. It is not clear who was flying the plane at the time.
The FAA, National Transportation Safety Board and Suffolk County police are continuing the investigation into why the plane landed upside down and burst into flames on Helene Avenue at 11:55 a.m. minutes after taking off from Brookhaven Calabro Airport about a mile away.
“Usually the process will reveal what happened,” NTSB investigator Brian Rayner told The Associated Press on Monday. The wreckage was taken back to the airport, where the engine would be disassembled and examined to determine whether mechanical failure was a factor.
He said one witness told him the plane appeared to pull the nose up to avoid crashing into the witness’ house before hitting a nearby tree and a large construction trash bin. Residents reportedly tried to extinguish the flames with garden hoses before police and firefighters arrived.
Among the three aboard, 60-year-old Jane Unhjem of Goshen, New York, died shortly later. Her 61-year-old husband, Erik, is being treated for serious injuries at Stony Brook University Medical Center. No one on the ground was injured.
Long Island-based mental health professional volunteers with the American Red Cross were visiting Helene Avenue homes Monday to offer support to those who witnessed the crash and the families of the victims.
“It’s not everyday a plane drops out of the sky in front of your house,” Sam Kille, regional spokesman for the nonprofit humanitarian organization. “Obviously, you watch a plane crash in the middle of your neighborhood like that…people are a little shook up.”
Steven Pileggi, a 30-year-old Lake Grove man who was playing baseball at Dowling College’s Brookhaven campus at the time, said he saw and heard the crash.
“I saw a plane flying really low coming very close to the top of nearby trees,” said Pileggi. “Moments later, as the pitcher was throwing we heard a loud boom and saw black clouds of smoke.”
Children have since resumed playing in the street near the stretch of blacktop scorched by the fireball that erupted when the plane plunged to the ground.