As rescue teams search for clues to a light plane crash that killed two men in Westchester County, the heartbreaking final moments of the doomed flight are pieced together.
The single-engine plane, an A36 Beechcraft Bonanza, took off from JFK Airport just before 5 p.m. Thursday and was en route to Cuyahoga County Airport in Richmond Heights, Ohio, the FAA said. Pilot Boruch Taub brought his friend Ben Chafetz — a mechanic who owned a repair shop called Masterworks — to New York for a funeral.
The couple were flying home to Cleveland when a sudden emergency arose. The pilot reported low oil pressure at 17:25 and then reported engine problems as the plane was about a mile from Westchester County Airport. Taub made an emergency call to air traffic control.
“We’re losing oil pressure, it’s an emergency,” Taub said over the radio.
In addition, the plane lost altitude. Then came the maydays.
“Do you have engine power right now? Can you maintain altitude?” an air traffic controller asked Taub.
“No, the engine is oversteering…mayday, mayday, mayday,” came the reply.
Minutes later, the White Plains airport lost contact with the plane. The plane was airborne just 30 minutes after taking off from New York Airport.
The plane crashed into a heavily forested area less than two miles from the airport where Taub had hoped to make an emergency landing. The area near the northern tip of Rye Lake off Cooley Hill Road in Armonk is surrounded by water.
Officials said the use of drones, which are usually needed in such a recovery operation, is not possible. It took first responders hours to find the plane, whose location was only determined after the cellphones of the men on board were pinged.
Using his cellphone, one of the men sent a message for his wife, Westchester County Executive George Latimer said.
“I don’t think any of us want to think about what it would be like to know that your life is ahead and that you are going to talk to the people you love most. And try to tell them something to sum up the life you had together. That’s what last night was about,” Latimer said on Friday.
At 5:27 p.m. Chafetz wrote, “Love you and the kids. I’m sorry for everything I did… We lost engines.”
The plane crashed at 5:28 p.m
“While the plane was underway, due to the malfunction or whatever ultimately caused the plane, it lost altitude and the pilot realized he only had a handful of minutes to safely land the plane. He couldn’t do it,” Latimer said.
Rabbi Ely Skorski told NBC New York that his friend Chafetz wanted to send the message to his wife, but it went wrong to a community group text.
“Exactly where it ended up, I don’t think it ended up where it was intended,” Skorski said.
Skorski remembered Boruch and Ben as kind-hearted members of the community.
“Ben Chafetz always stood up for other people, he had a kind, lovely attitude,” he said. “He took people into his house who were not in good situations. Just good, friendly people.”
The bodies of both men were flown back to Cleveland.
Authorities are still investigating how the plane, whose tail number was assigned to Ohio’s T&G Flying Club, crashed and what caused the engines to fail.
The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be investigating. The recovery of the rubble is expected to take a few days. The NTSB will lead the investigation and provide any updates.