MELVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A pilot died when his small plane crashed in Melville, N.Y.
The pilot, identified as 52-year-old Ken Johansen, was the only person on board.
Officials say the aircraft was a vintage SNJ-2 pilot trainer plane from the GEICO Skytypers Air Show Team, and went down shortly after taking off from Republic Airport.
Images from the scene showed the plane spiraling down to the ground. In the aftermath, it was completely engulfed in flames.
Witnesses at the scene told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff they saw several WWII-type planes flying overhead at the time of the crash. The planes frequently practice in the area, witnesses said.
“They fly in formation. It’s not uncommon to see them flying in this area,” witness Lou Scaglione said. “And probably with the air show last weekend, they were probably out flying again. It’s kind of neat to see them come by, but I notice them come by, they, usually, there’s four or five of them in formation. They came back around, they circled, and as they circled around I noticed one was missing. I said ‘Oh, maybe he’s on approach to the airport.’ But then I saw smoke coming over the tops of the trees. I could only assume one thing, and it’s unfortunate.”
Joe Monte says at first he saw four aerobatic plans flying in a two-by-two formation. Then, the plane flown by Johansen separated from the rest and took a plunge.
“The engine at that point was silent from what I could see,” he said. “At the last few seconds I could hear the engine rev up so he was trying to recover the plane.”
In video released by GEICO Skytypers, Johansen talked about the importance of keeping the routine fresh so the pilots would stay sharp.
“We all strap these airplanes on and they become extensions of our bodies,” he said. “Where we can push them, where’s the envelope of the plane, it’s worth discovering that and it’s wonderful.”
The planes he and his colleagues were flying Wednesday were the same one spotted over Jones Beach during the annual Bethpage Air Show last weekend.
The wreckage of Johansen’s plane remained covered by tarp on Northcote Road Wednesday night, with debris scattered in nearby woods and a makeshift memorial set up nearby.
Johansen was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, a Navy aviator, and a professional pilot according to Skytypers. The native of Doylestown, Pennsylvania leaves behind a wife and two children.