A preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board last week offers new insight into the final moments before a plane crash in Mattituck left an Oakdale couple dead.
Pilot Robert Mark, 66, was flying his 1990 Beechcraft A36 Bonanza June 8 when he experienced engine failure and crashed in a farm field on the north end of Harbes Farm around 9:15 a.m.
Mr. Mark and his passenger, longtime girlfriend Susan Quagliano, 57, were both pronounced dead at the scene, though their dog managed to escape the fiery wreckage.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, taxi, engine run-up, takeoff and communications with the airplane that morning were all “routine,” as the plane took off from Islip MacArthur Airport around 9 a.m.
The couple was headed to New Bedford, Mass. to participate in a missing man formation in honor of a fellow pilot.
Just 11 minutes into the flight, traveling at 3,325 feet over Long Island Sound in Northville, the plane shifted course and began its descent, the NTSB report states.
Mr. Mark reportedly contacted air traffic control to announce that the airplane had experienced “engine failure,” and that he was planning to land in a farm field.
He began steering the aircraft toward land, descending over Sound Avenue before reversing course to the west near Harbes Farm, where the aircraft ultimately crashed.
Air traffic controllers reported losing radar contact with the pilot at 25 feet above ground, 200 feet east of the accident site about a minute after the pilot announced his intentions to land in a field.
According to the report, witnesses near the site described the airplane as flying “low,” with one witness asking another if the plane was actually a crop duster.
Footage captured from nearby surveillance cameras show the low-flying aircraft make contact with the ground and disappear from view before a dark plume of smoke emerged, officials said in the report.
A post-crash fire destroyed the cockpit, cabin and both wings, according to the report, and the wreckage path was 105 feet in length. Investigators at the scene were able to find all of the plane’s components in the wreckage.
A final determination as to why the plane’s engine failed will be determined in a final report issued at a later date.
Mr. Mark was praised among fellow pilots for avoiding Sound Avenue and surrounding residential homes.
Longtime friend and pilot Joseph Fischetti of Southold said Mr. Mark was an experienced pilot.
“Everything he did in that flight to try to land safely, I would have done,” Mr. Fischetti said in an interview after the crash.
The NTSB report notes that Mr. Mark held a private pilot certificate, most recently earning an FAA third class medical certificate issued May 24.
He had over 11,090 hours of flight experience and routinely inspected and maintained his aircraft, according to the report.
Photo credit: Doug Kuntz