A small plane carrying two friends to an air safety seminar crashed seconds after takeoff at Republic Airport yesterday morning, injuring the experienced pilot and his passenger, aviation officials said.
There were diverging views of whether the single-engine aircraft - a yellow Husky twin-seat prop plane piloted by Vincent Pacifico, 52, of Massapequa - was in the air before it crashed.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jim Peters said the accident happened just before 9 a.m., as the aircraft was headed north and started to veer to the left about 1,000 feet down Runway 1. The plane, which was headed to Brookhaven Calabro Airport, then flipped over as it hit a patch of grass adjacent to the runway, he said.
But Republic Airport Director Michael Geiger said airport operations staff saw the plane 30 to 40 feet in the air before it tumbled to the ground.
"It had just gotten airborne and it went down in the grass," he said.
FAA investigator Anthony Mauro, who interviewed the pilot and passenger, said, "Whatever happened here happened in the air."
The victims were taken to Nassau University Medical Center. Pacifico was in guarded but stable condition in intensive care with a back injury. His friend and the passenger, Joe Perna, 46, also of Massapequa, was in satisfactory condition in a regular patient unit, said hospital and aviation officials.
The force of the crash snapped the plane's right wing, bent its left one and sprung a fuel leak. There was no fire, but firefighters from the East Farmingdale Fire Department and the Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting Department responded to the scene and sprayed foam on the plane.
"It appears to have had a mechanical problem right after takeoff," Mauro said.
FAA investigators classified the incident as an accident and the plane as destroyed, meaning the National Transportation Safety Board will take over the investigation. An NTSB spokesman did not return repeated calls for comment.
"Investigators will have to make the determination" as to what caused the crash, said airport spokesman Gary Lewi. "There are any number of guesses, but that's all it would be. It would be inappropriate to speculate."
The pilots were flying to a 9 a.m. safety seminar on flying tailwheel type planes - the kind they were in - held at Brookhaven Calabro Airport. About 40 pilots attended the 90-minute event, where they learned takeoff and landing techniques for "tail draggers," an old-fashioned plane design with a wheel in the rear.
The FAA requires aspiring pilots to attend training seminars and obtain the approval of a flight instructor before being allowed to fly tailwheel planes solo.
Mauro said Pacifico was an experienced pilot, and FAA records show he had a commercial pilot's license. His father-in-law, Ed Hauser, said he was the pilot of the plane. Pacifico owns Vista Food Exchange, a major Bronx-based distributor of wholesale meat and produce, and a neighbor said he frequently flies clients up and down the East Coast.
The Husky, which has a rear wheel, is registered to Wilmington, Del.-based Air Transport Service Llc.
Despite the Delaware registration, the plane is housed at a hangar at Republic, a 526-acre airport in East Farmingdale that handles 150 takeoffs and 150 landings per day.
The last fatal accident at Republic was Sept. 24, 1995, when a Massachusetts man was killed after his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza crashed as he tried to take off.
"It appears to have had a mechanical problem right after takeoff," said FAA investigator Anthony Mauro.
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