BAYPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Officials say a small plane crash on Long Island could have been much worse and the pilot’s family is grateful to the people who rescued him and his passenger.
The Piper 28 was trying to return to the Bayport Aerodrome after experiencing engine trouble when it clipped a tree and utility lines before crashing to the pavement on Second Street near Third Avenue in Bayport around 7 p.m. Sunday.
“We were in our house and we heard a big crash. I looked out the window and saw a big, dark cloud of smoke rising to the air. It was kind of short, it didn’t linger,” witness Michael Wikan said.
“I was looking out my window and it stalled. He turned around to come back in and he went down. He hit the first pole, twisted around, landed and went on fire and stuff,” another witness said.
Neighbors and volunteer firefighters rescued the pilot, 34-year-old Scott Clifford, and his passenger, 55-year-old Mike Rome, who were stuck in the burning wreckage.
“They cut him out of the airplane. Some people hosed down the plane and saved their lives,” the pilot’s aunt, Diane Macolino, told CBS2’s Magdalena Doris in an exclusive interview.
Joe Walsh, a retired Bayport firefighter, and his brother Pete Walsh, a New York City firefighter, ran to action after seeing the plane crash down.
“My kids were on the front lawn playing soccer and they came running in and said the plane crashed,” Joe Walsh told CBS2’s Ali Bauman. “I didn’t even have shoes on. I ran down in my socks.”
“We were working on unbuckling the seat belt and one of them, his leg was stuck, so basically we just had to yank them because the fire, so he pulled them out, handed them to me,” Pete Walsh said.
The men were airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital. Clifford is hospitalized in serious condition with two broken legs, a broken hand, broken ribs and a head injury. Rome received 30 stitches to his head.
Both men are expected to recover, and judging by the wreckage, officials said it could have been far worse.
“This is nothing short of a miracle, both that the airplane did not hit any houses or any other individuals,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “The fact that right now, both occupants of the plane are alive is also nothing short of a miracle.”
Clifford bought the plane just one month ago, Doris reported. He was visiting family on Long Island and was heading back with Rome to upstate New York, where they both live, when the plane went down.
“If they had burns, especially inhalation injury, their mortality would have significantly increased from this accident,” Dr. James Vosswinkel, chief of trauma surgery at Stonybrook University Hospital, told CBS2.
Macolino said the family plans to visit the crash site and personally thank those who helped save the two men.
“Thank God he’s alive, thanks to all those people that helped him,” she said.
Officials at the hospital said both the pilot and passenger should be released this week.
The FAA is investigating the cause of the crash.
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