Sunday, September 25, 2016

3 killed in midair collision involving a Cessna 120 plane and a Piper PA-28 plane in North Collins, NY.


Part of the wreckage in North Collins on Sunday morning. (Photo courtesy of Brian Schmitt)

By Stephen T. Watson
By Karen Robinson

Updated 6:06 PM
September 25, 2016

Three people died in an aircraft collision in bright blue skies over North Collins on Sunday morning, the Erie County Sheriff's Office confirmed several hours after the incident.

A 60-year-old Hamburg man and a couple from Eden, both 69, were the only three people aboard the two planes, according to an administrator at Hamburg Airport and aircraft registration records. The News is withholding their names until families have had a chance to be notified.

Two small aircraft collided shortly before 9:30 a.m. in the skies over southern Erie County, leaving a debris field over a one-quarter to one-half-mile section of School Street between Larkin and Jennings roads in the town, officials from the Erie County Sheriff's Office said at a media briefing at North Collins High School.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration were at the crash scene Sunday and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board will be at the crash scene first thing Monday morning, according to Sheriff's Detective Capt. Greg Savage.

The two aircraft were in a group of six that took off together around 9 a.m. from Hamburg Airport, Larry Walsh, the airport's vice president, told The News. The aircraft were flying together to get breakfast, in St. Mary's, Pa., and planned to return later in the day, he said.

The pilots of the two planes were experienced amateur pilots, each with at least 15 years of flying, said Walsh. He said the deaths of the three – a man flying alone and a couple – has devastated the close-knit group of pilots and families that base their planes at the airport.

First responders close off a section of School Street in Eden as the crash investigation proceeds. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

"We're all shaking in our boots now," Walsh said. One plane was a Cessna and one was a Piper Cherokee, he said. Both are single-engine, single-propeller planes.

Walsh said even on a clear day with perfect visibility, as was the case Sunday morning, one pilot can lose sight of another; for example, if one flies underneath or above the other.

"There are a number of blind spots," Walsh said, though he doesn't know the cause of this crash.

The first 911 call came in from a cellphone at 9:24 a.m., Sheriff's Office officials said.

"We have several eyewitnesses who saw the planes approaching before there was contact," said Scott Joslyn, chief of patrol services.

One witness told sheriff's investigators of seeing two aircraft make contact in the air before plummeting to the ground. The crash sites for the two aircraft are about 400 yards apart, Joslyn said, one on the south side of School Street and one on the north side.

With one of the fallen planes visible at right, emergency first responders search the debris field outside of 2896 School Street in Eden. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Karen Ricotta, a North Collins town justice who lives on School Street, said she heard a noise at about 9:30 a.m. "And when I looked outside, you could see something next door on a mowed farm field. I couldn't identify what it was," Ricotta told a News reporter. "But when I went outside, another man driving by pulled in my yard and told me it was a plane in the field. I called 911, but they already had been called."

A North Collins resident named Tom, who wouldn't give his last name and who lives on Larkin Road about 2,000 feet from the crash scenes, said small aircraft regularly fly over his home. This morning, he was cooking when, he told The News, "I just heard planes flying and a really loud smash."

By 11:30 a.m., a helicopter and a small plane circled overhead as reporters and onlookers awaited news on what happened. At the Langford Superette, at Route 75 and Route 249, a short distance from the crash scenes, a steady stream of people came in and out of the country store to talk about what had happened.

Closer to the crash scenes, a School Street resident who declined to give her name to a reporter said she had been sitting on her outdoor deck at about 8:30 Sunday morning when she saw a red-and-white plane flying over her house. She lives one mile from the crash scenes, where she had walked later in the morning to bring bottled water to emergency responders.

"It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and I saw this plane, and here it might be the last time that person was alive," she said.

"It missed a house by 100 feet," North Collins Supervisor John M. Tobia said, or otherwise more people could have been injured or killed on the ground. One aircraft landed in a field and one landed between a metal storage building and a wooded area, the supervisor said.

"It's like a pancake; it's crushed," Tobia said. "You can't tell it's an aircraft."

Sheriff's personnel are preserving the crash scenes until federal investigators can get to the area. The Erie County medical examiner also has been called to the scene.

The Sheriff's Office asks people who witnessed the planes in the air, or who find debris from the crash on their properties, to call 858-2903.

Tobia said recovering debris and bodies and the search for clues to the cause of the crash is likely to take all day. He praised the work of emergency responders, including the North Collins Fire Company, North Collins rescue squad, Langford Fire Company and Eden police.

Roads in the immediate area of the crash were closed for hours but reopened around 3 p.m.

"Locating any piece of those crafts all tell a tale," Joslyn said. "It's going to be real important to have a good search of the area."

Sunday's tragedy isn't the first time that two planes have collided in Western New York skies with deadly consequences. Almost exactly two years ago – on Sept. 27, 2014 – two people died in a crash in Lancaster when one single-engine aircraft clipped another.

"It was a perfect clear day," Sheriff's Detective Capt. Greg Savage said at Sunday's media briefing, "just like it was in the Lancaster crash."

The two small planes were preparing to land at Buffalo-Lancaster Regional Airport, one in front of the other on the same flight path, just like countless planes on other landing paths at airports every day. Coming up from behind, the bigger, faster Cessna descended and struck a smaller experimental aircraft, called a Searey, before spiraling out of control to the ground.

Anthony Mercurio, 78, was flying in a small plane with James Metz, 14. Both were killed. The pilot of the other plane and that plane's passenger, a 9-year-old girl, survived.

The two youngsters and volunteer pilots were taking part in an event at the Buffalo-Lancaster Regional Airport designed to introduce young people to the thrill of flying.


Time: 09:30LT
Type: Piper PA-28
Owner/operator: Private

C/n / msn:

Fatalities: Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities: 1
Airplane damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location: North Collins, NY - United States of America
Phase: En route
Nature: Private
Departure airport: Hamburg Airport (4G2)
Destination airport: St Marys Municipal (KOYM/OYM)
Mid air collision, Piper PA-28 and Cessna 120. 3 confirmed fatalities. Exact split of POB tbc. The wreckage came down in open farmland. It is reported these were 2 of 6 aircraft flying to St Marys Municipal Airport in Pennsylvania.




Type:Cessna 120
C/n / msn:
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:2
Airplane damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:North Collins, NY -   United States of America
Phase: En route
Departure airport:Hamburg Airport (4G2)
Destination airport:St Marys Municipal (KOYM/OYM)
Mid air collision, Piper PA-28 and Cessna 120. 3 confirmed fatalities. Exact split of POB tbc. The wreckage came down in open farmland. It is reported these were 2 of 6 aircraft flying to St Marys Municipal Airport in Pennsylvania.