Teams were still recovering a light airplane that crashed nearly two miles from Westchester County Airport late Thursday afternoon in a driving rainstorm that killed two men from the Cleveland area.
County authorities said that the single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza 836 crashed shortly after 5:30 p.m. in a heavily wooded area near Loudon’s Point near Rye Lake, roughly a 30-minute walk from the nearest property on King Street, in close proximity to the Armonk-Greenwich border. The plane had taken off just before 5 p.m. from John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens.
The bodies of the pilot, Boruch Taub, and passenger Benjamin Chafetz were found near the wreckage, said Department of Emergency Services Commissioner Richard Wishnie. It took until 10:55 p.m. for rescue crews to reach the plane and its occupants, shortly after the FBI was able to ping the cell phones of Taub and Chafetz.
“He was losing altitude,” County Executive George Latimer said of the pilot. “That’s what happens when the plane is deficient in whatever fashion. So my sense is had he had a little more altitude and a little more time he would have made it safely to the runway.”
It is not known if weather was a factor in the crash, said April Gasparri, the manager of Westchester County Airport. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which were scheduled to be on the scene by Friday afternoon, will investigate the precise cause of the crash. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) representatives had arrived by Friday morning, she said.
The investigation may also determine why the aircraft was low on oil so soon after takeoff, Gasparri said.
“The weather was impossible,” Wishnie said. “We could not even use the drones that we normally put up in the air. They were ineffective in the rain.”
Initially, authorities were uncertain of the location of the wreckage, and searches were done by air, land and boat, since there was the possibility that the plane could have crashed into Rye Lake Reservoir, part of the New York City reservoir system. It wasn’t until the cell phone numbers of Taub and Chafetz were obtained did the pings reveal the exact location of the aircraft.
“They found the wreckage,” Wishnie said. “The unfortunate victims were on the ground and it was confirmed they were dead.”
Most of the wreckage, large portions of it still intact, was also on the ground, although some pieces were tangled in trees, he said.
The pilot reported low fuel pressure to air traffic controllers at 5:20 p.m. and asked to make an emergency landing at Westchester County Airport, which was the nearest airport, Gasparri said. The last communication with air traffic controllers was at 5:30 p.m., she said. The plane was reported missing at 5:38 p.m.
Crews from the Armonk, Port Chester, Purchase and West Harrison fire departments were the four primary responding agencies, according to Wishnie. EMS personnel from the Armonk Fire Department EMS, Harrison EMS and Port Chester/Rye/Rye Brook EMS also responded, he said.
Because of the terrain, it is expected that the area will be closed off at least through the weekend and likely into Monday, said New York City Department of Environmental Protection Chief Frank Milazzo.
“The area is heavily forested, so it’s not going to be an easy ordeal to rescue the wreckage,” Milazzo said.
While the pilot tried to land the plane, Latimer said Chafetz had a final conversation with loved ones. He didn’t reveal much about the call other than “he was saying goodbye.”
“I don’t think any of us want to contemplate what it would be like to know that your life was about to end and you were going to speak to the people you love the most and try to say something to them to try and summarize the life that you had together,” Latimer said.
“That is what last night was about. It was about the professionalism and the bravery of the men and women who responded to this, who did everything they could to try and help that plane come in and upon being unable to do so, went out to recover the aftermath of this and to provide the most dignified and proper response to this.”
The county executive said Taub, the pilot, and Chafetz were members of the Orthodox Jewish community. Special steps were taken to ensure their bodies were handled in accordance with Jewish law, Latimer said. On Friday, they were being flown back to Cleveland for burial.
Updates will be provided should more information be made available.