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Police Identify Dutchess Plane Crash Victims; County Exec Plans Info Session

Courtesy of LaGrange Fire Department via New York State Police

A small plane crashed into a house near Poughkeepsie over the weekend, causing a massive fire and leaving the pilot and one of the residents dead. Now, there is a fundraiser for the displaced family, and Dutchess County officials are helping a number of those involved address trauma.

State police on Sunday tentatively identified those involved in the plane crash on South Smith Road in Union Vale. The aircraft pilot was identified as 61-year-old Francisco Knipping-Diaz, of Woodmere, on Long Island, in Nassau County. His two passengers were identified as 50-year-old Eduardo Tio, also of Woodmere, and 52-year-old Teoflio Antonio Diaz Pratt, of the Dominican Republic, both of whom sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

Police say 61-year-old Gerald Bocker, who was home at the time of the crash, has been tentatively identified pending confirmation at autopsy. Bocker’s 21-year-old daughter Hannah was critically injured, and 30-year-old daughter Sarah sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Neighbors told “The Poughkeepsie Journal” that the Bockers had lived in the house for 30 years and that Gerald Bocker’s wife was not home at the time, and they have a son in California. Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro was on scene Saturday.

“It was just a horrific scene that no person could possibly anticipate, just sitting quietly in your living room and have this occur,” Molinaro says. “And it’s really shaken the community.”

He says six local fire departments and other emergency crews responded.

“Subsequent to the incident, Dutchess County Emergency Response has been working with the Union Vale Fire Department along with the New York State Police and NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] to conduct now what will be a fairly extensive investigation to identify cause,” Molinaro says. “We are also, the county has also dispatched our mobile intervention team, our mental health first aid staff to provide assistance not only to the family that clearly is now living with significant loss, but to the responders and also neighbors. Several neighbors acted heroically, responding and assisting, in fact, helping people evacuate the scene. All of that is a form of trauma that individuals are going to need some assistance with, and we’re going to stand with them for the duration.”          

He says there will be a meeting in the coming weeks to help the community.

“We’re going to hold an informational session or meeting with the community in the coming weeks to provide what answers the appropriate agencies can,” Molinaro says. “Our mental health staff is going to be available as well to talk a little bit how individuals and then how we as a society or community need to respond to trauma.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said the Cessna left Sky Acres Airport in LaGrangeville, a mile from the crash, and was headed to Republic Airport on East Farmingdale, Long Island. State police Captain. Paul DeQuarto said at a news conference that the plane first took off from the Orange County Airport in Montgomery, then stopped to refuel at Sky Acres Airport before continuing toward Long Island. DeQuarto said the Cessna 303 had some kind of engine trouble before it struck the side of the two-story house.

One of Sarah Bocker’s friends started a Facebook fundraising campaign for the family. As of 4 p.m. Monday, more than 1,300 people helped raise north of $63,000, nearing a goal of $70,000.  Sarah Bocker posted a thank you message on the page Sunday. Again, Molinaro.

“I’m now in my 25th year of elected office. There are two incidents that sort of, that seared in my memory. One, while I was mayor of Tivoli was the rape of a woman and her 4-year-old daughter. And that, for its own reasons, certainly a horrible and horrific crime that has gone unsolved and lives unalterably impacted,” says Molinaro. “This, for entirely different reasons, was just a bad and sort of equal visual in my mind, having been on site and on the scene.”

Dutchess County has seen a number of aviation tragedies recently. In June, helicopter pilot Tim McCormack of Clinton Corners was killed when his helicopter crashed on the roof of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper amid inclement weather.

“Certainly, Tim McCormack’s crash was unique of and in itself in the city, but Dutchess County, as a community now, has actually experienced four aviation-related tragedies in the last 60 days and, quite frankly, it’s not something that you can or would expect, all of different magnitude," says Molinaro.

Despite the number of local aviation incidents recently, Executive Director of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA’s) Air Safety Institute Richard McSpadden says the general aviation fatal accident rate is down about 50 percent since 1994. And the general aviation industry recently exceeded the FAA’s 10-year industry goal in 2018 of reducing fatal accidents to less than 1 per 100,000 hours of flying.

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