Report: Mechanic told Orient pilot not to fly

06/28/2013 2:00 PM |

COURTESY PHOTO | David McElroy had may hobbies and loved his family, his daughters said.

The Orient man who died along with a passenger when his single-engine plane crashed into a Shirley neighborhood last August was warned on the morning of the accident not to fly the plane, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report.

David McElroy, a 53-year-old licensed pilot and owner of the Socata TB 10 plane, asked a mechanic to inspect the aircraft the day before the accident and said he’d be showing the plane to a prospective buyer, according to the report released on June 18.

Mr. McElroy had told the mechanic, John DiLavore, that the plane had lost power and was unable to climb above 400 feet when he flew it with a Southold friend on Aug. 16.

Mr. DiLavore tested out the plane and found the engine tachometer — which measures the engine’s revolutions per minute — wasn’t working properly, the report states. An emergency location transmitter was also missing, Mr. DiLavore told investigators, adding that he couldn’t look into the diminished power until the tachometer was replaced.

Mr. DiLavore left the plane for Mr. McElroy at Brookhaven Calabro Airport on Aug. 19 following his inspection and told Mr. McElroy the plane wasn’t cleared to fly.

Mr. McElroy, along with Jane Unhjem, 60, and her husband Erik Unhjem, 61, of Goshen, N.Y., took off about 11:30 a.m. but the plane made a slight left turn, descended below the tree line and crashed into a residential area in Shirley about a mile from the airport, according to the NTSB.

Mr. McElroy and Ms. Unhjem were both killed and Mr. Unhjem was critically injured, authorities said. The plane barely missed a home on Helene Avenue, witnesses told The Suffolk Times a day after the accident.

In an interview with the Federal Aviation Authority, Mr. Unhjem — a licensed pilot — said he and his wife vacationed on the North Fork and were interested in buying the plane from Mr. McElroy. Mr. Unhjem said Mr. McElroy told him the plane’s annual inspection was complete and invited him to inspect it.

Mr. and Ms. Unhjem met that morning with Mr. McElroy, who offered to take them for a test flight, the report said. Mr. Unhjem originally took control of the plane, but said it was “sluggish” off the runway and gave control back to Mr. McElroy, who piloted the plane through takeoff.

Mr. Unhjem said the plane “did not climb well” and added he noticed power lines and trees during the ascent. The plane then stalled and crashed.

A witness at the airport also told investigators that the plane appeared to be “slow” and “anemic” and needed almost the entire 4,222-foot runway at Calabro Airport to get airborne, according to the NTSB.

The cause of the accident has not yet been determined and the investigation is ongoing, an NTSB official said.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the last name of the mechanic who informed Mr. McElroy that his plane was not cleared to fly. The mechanic’s name is John DiLavore, not John Galligan.