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Mar 21, 2017 5:15 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Initial Report Offers Little New Information On Gabreski Plane Crash That Killed Two

The wreckage of the vintage plane that crashed on February 26, Gabreski Airport in Westhampton.  PRESS FILE
Mar 22, 2017 10:00 AM

The National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report on last month’s fatal vintage plane crash in Westhampton sheds no light on what might have caused the pilot—the only survivor in the crash that killed both of his passengers—to lose control while practicing takeoffs and landings.

Released earlier this week, the three-page report notes that the pilot, Richard Rosenthal, 61, of Huntington Station, successfully completed one takeoff and landing, referred to as a “touch-and-go,” at Francis S. Gabreski Airport before inexplicably losing control of his Ryan Navion F vintage aircraft just after 11:40 a.m. on February 26.

After completing one takeoff and landing, tower personnel reported observing the plane bank sharply to the right—so much so that they could view the bottom of the aircraft. Mr. Rosenthal corrected the turn, the report notes, before his aircraft banked hard to the right a second time, this time hitting several trees lining Runway 33 and crashing about 700 feet into the woods before bursting into flames.

The report notes that wind gusts varied between 21 and 27 knots—about 25 to 30 mph—near the airport shortly after the crash, though the document does not say if investigators believe the weather was a contributing factor.

Mr. Rosenthal, who was pulled from the burning wreckage by members of an Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew completing training exercises near the airport that morning, spent several weeks recovering from his injuries at Stony Brook University Hospital before being released. Both of his passengers—Arieh Narkunski, 64, of Brooklyn, and Robert A. Wilkie, 65, of Hempstead, both also licensed pilots—were pronounced dead at the scene.

A final report from the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, is not expected for at least another 12 to 18 months. The preliminary report notes that the plane was destroyed upon impact, with 6 feet of its right wing breaking away from the aircraft; the wing, which was dented by a tree, was found 75 feet from the fuselage.

In addition, the plane’s single propellor detached during the crash, landing some 30 feet from the aircraft, according to the report. It also notes that it appears that the plane’s engine was fully functional prior to the crash—though the ensuing fire destroyed several of its controls.

The report notes that Mr. Rosenthal, who kept his plane at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale, had the correct pilot’s license and had accumulated more than 857 hours of flight time. It also notes that a licensed flight instructor on board, who had been previously identified by authorities as Mr. Narkunski, was a licensed commercial pilot with more than 1,000 hours of flight experience.

The plane itself, which was manufactured in 1951, was in compliance with federal regulations and was last inspected on August 18, 2016, according to the report.

At a press conference held at Gabreski several days after the fatal crash, Dan Boggs, a chief investigator with the NTSB, speculated that a cause of the crash might never be known. He also stated at the time that there were no obvious issues with the aircraft or weather that day, and he did not think anyone on board had suffered a medical emergency as no one ever issued a “mayday” call.

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Can anyone recall the last time an investigation in these parts actually produced results?
By even flow (1023), East Hampton on Mar 23, 17 3:22 AM
If you're taking about air crash investigations evenflow then the answer is yes. The Sagaponack crash was due to weekend pilots failing to gas up the plane. The chopper crash years ago was from kite string. But if you're talking about car crashes then the answer is no as local cops cover for their own, their city clients or are just incompetent. Please don't compare FAA investigators with our local, flunky cops. FAA investigators are highly trained professionals, our local cops are not
By G (342), Southampton on Mar 23, 17 8:03 AM