Report: Plane looked ‘anemic’ before it crashed in Shirley, killing 2

09/01/2012 5:00 PM |
Shirley plane crash, Calabro Airport

KAYLA CHIARAMONTE COURTESY PHOTO | Burning wreckage from the Shirley plane crash that took the life of David McElroy Sunday.

The plane that crashed in Shirley last month, killing an Orient man and an Upstate woman, was “slow” and “anemic” and needed almost the entire feet of a 4,222-foot runway at Calabro Airport to become airborne before crashing minutes later, according to a preliminary federal report.

That was according to witnesses on the ground, whose “attention was drawn to the airplane during its takeoff roll.”

“They described the airplane as it climbed slowly to tree-top height, in a nose-high pitch attitude, and disappeared from view,” reads the National Transportation Safety Board report, released today. “Moments later, a large smoke plume appeared out of the trees a short distance beyond the airport boundary.”

The plane had taken off from Brookhaven Calabro Airport after 11:30 a.m. before crashing into a tree dumpster near Shirley homes and bursting into flames.

One witness quoted in the report said the aircraft’s engine was “really loud” before it crashed.

The single-engine plane, a Socata TB10, was owned by David McElroy, a 53-year-old pilot from Orient who was killed.

Passenger Jane Unhjem, 60, of Goshen, N.Y., died eight hours later, and Erik Unhjem, 61, was critically injured and was recovering at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

Sources said Mr. McElroy was trying to sell the plane to the upstate couple that was on board at the time.

A licensed pilot, Erik Uhnjem was also in the cockpit when the plane crashed, a NTSB spokesperson told the media last month.

It is still clear to investigators who was flying the plane at the time of the crash, and NTSB officials said they may never know.

The final report will likely take a year to complete.

The FAA did obtain a ferry permit to move the plane at Calabro in June 2012 for an annual inspection and maintenance, and the person who ferried the plane at the time said its performance and handling appeared to be fine, according to the preliminary report, released today, Saturday.

Mr. McElroy held a private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine, land, the report reads. His most recent certification was issued on Aug. 1, 2003, when he reported 18 total hours of flight experience.

The report also found that “preliminary radar data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed the airplane climbed to 200 feet mean sea level and accelerated to 63 knots groundspeed before the radar target was lost in the vicinity of the crash site.”

A father of seven, Mr. McElroy, a home builder, was described by family as a strong-minded person who achieved whatever he set his mind to.

“He lived life to the fullest,” his 25-year-old daughter, Dana, told The Suffolk Times in the days after the crash.

His youngest child is just 8.

Donations are still being collected for the McElroy Children’s Fund, c/o Bridgehampton National Bank, P.O. Box 1567, Southold, NY 11971.

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