BABYLON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A small plane flipped over after making an emergency landing on a Long Island beach Monday morning.
CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff spoke exclusively with the pilot’s relieved family.
During a flying lesson, the single-engine, four-seat Cessna 172 touched down amid windy conditions in the sand at Robert Moses State Park Field 2 in Suffolk County just after 9 a.m.
It was an unplanned destination for a trio during a flying lesson.
Video from the scene showed the plane belly-up on the beach and came dangerously close to the water.
Steve Fratello was taking his daily beach walk at about 9:20 a.m. He saw the plane dropping lower and lower.
“After a few seconds, I said, ‘That plane’s in trouble,’” Fratello said. “I saw it slowly go lower down. I thought it was just going to do a crash landing, which it did. So it landed, then went nose down and flipped over.”
“They came in fairly stable but I think it was just the nature of the sand that made the nose of the airplane go into the sand and it flipped over,” one witness told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall.
Remarkably, the three people on board walked away with just scratches.
Flight school instructor Brandon Sax of Port Washington was at the controls. His students were a 16-year-old boy from Wantagh and a girl from East Rockaway, and no one was more relieved and proud than the 26-year-old pilot’s family.
One of the students was at the controls when the plane started developing mechanical problems, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported. Sax took over and conducted the emergency landing.
“I was saying, ‘This could be Brandon,’ but I didn’t know for sure if it was him,” said the pilot’s mother, Santi Sax. “For anyone whose children or husband is a pilot, it’s the worst thing. You see a situation like this, when you heard he landed safely, you’re just relieved say thank God no one got hurt.”
“I know he is really good at what he does,” said the pilot’s brother, Ashton Sax. “So if anyone, I think he’s the best person to be in this situation, because he’s the one who can handle it the best.”
Sax told his family the engine cut out, and he waited to make the emergency landing until a person on the beach was out of the path.
Sax’s father said his son is a hero.
“I said, ‘You saved everyone’s lives in that aircraft, including your own,’” said Charles Sax.
Sax works for a flight school in Farmingdale called Nassau Flyers, to which the plane is registered. It took off from Republic Airport.
Both students were taken to Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip as a precaution.
Park officials said it is common for flight lessons to take place over the ocean. They are also counting their blessings.
“When you get down here and you see that plane upside down you always get concerned that somebody may have been hurt but in this case no one was hurt,” Gorman said.
Also lucky was the timing, as the beach where the plane landed would normally be packed with people during warmer months.
“I don’t want to say if something like this could happen this is the best time cause there’s no one on the beach, but that is true there was no one on the beach,” Gorman said.
The Federal Aviation Administration late Monday was investigating what went wrong. But park officials were grateful for what went right.
There is no minimum age for taking flying lessons, but students must be at least 17 to get a pilot’s license.