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Sen. Schumer Urges Investigation Into String Of Small Plane Crashes

WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is calling on the National Transportation Safety Board to launch an in-depth investigation of small-plane crashes.

Schumer on Sunday released a letter he penned to the NTSB, citing February crashes of single-engine planes in Bayonne, New Jersey, and at a Long Island airport. The New York Democrat, the Senate minority leader, is demanding answers.   "Last year, 10 small plane crashes on Long Island alone. 18 crashes across the state of New York. So we need real answers here. And the premier safety agency in the federal government that everyone has great respect for, is the NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board. The trouble is, they only look into individual crashes. But now there's a pattern, and so we are asking them to do something a little differently and look at the pattern of crashes. Ten small plane crashes on Long Island. The 18 in New York State. The others in New Jersey and Connecticut."

Coincidentally, two people were injured when their small plane crashed upstate Sunday morning, less than an hour before Schumer addressed the media in New York City. State Police Troop G spokesman Mark Cepiel:   "At approximately 10:39 am, State Police members form the Greenwich barracks responded to a Washington County 911 call for an airplane down in the vicinity of county Route 47 and Street Road, town of Argyle. Troopers arriving at the location discovered a fixed-wing single-engineCessna 150J had come to rest after striking a small patch of trees. There were two occupants within the aircraft itself. Injuries are non-life threatening."

The crash was the second in Argyle in the last five months. Cepiel says the investigation has been turned over to the NTSB.   Michael Canders, director of the Aviation Center at Farmingdale State College, sees pilot error as a factor in not only general aviation but commercial and military plane mishaps as well.  "The leading cause are human errors. Human factors. Pilot error; improper procedures. Spatial disorientation. Excessive landing speeds. Those are sort of examples of the things that get pilots in trouble. So, the idea of there being some singular cause of these general aviation accidents, uh - tough to say. Now, the NTSB will determine a probable cause for these accidents. So anybody interested in a particular set of accidents can look at those and read what the probable cause of that particular accident is."

Schumer characterizes the "rash of crashes" as a danger to pilots, passengers and people on the ground. He wants the feds to tweak the investigation process.  "The NTSB can do this. They can come up with a reason. We don't know what the reason is. Could it be wind patterns have changed? Could it be the routes that these planes fly are not the safest? Could it be something is going wrong somewhere, in the tower, in the planes, with the instrumentation. Don't know the answer. We just know there are too many. They're increasing in frequency, and we ought to get to the bottom of it and get to the bottom of it fast."

One week ago, a twin-engine plane with five on board crashed in a California neighborhood after taking off from a nearby airport and making it less than a mile. The son of one of the victims told ABC News his mother called him before the flight and said she was worried about the rainy weather. The pilot apparently thought it was safe to fly.  Canders lends validation to so-called "gut feelings." "Gut is an important part as you become an experienced pilot. If something doesn't seem right or feel right, we teach our students, future professional pilots, to pay attention to that. Maybe look at your planning. Look at your fuel. Look at the weather. Make sure that everything is carefully done. And there's a lot to flying before the aircraft gets in the air. I think people equate it to driving, but it's really important to spend time on the ground, typically an hour or more looking at weather, pre-flighting the aircraft, making sure it's mechanically sound, so there's a lot to do before your take any aircraft in the air, be it a commercial airliner or a small general aviation aircraft."

According to Schumer's office, the NTSB said it would review his letter once it's been received. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WAMC.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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