© Kevin P. Coughlin/The Wall Street Journal
Authorities from the Suffolk County Police and other officials investigate the scene where a small plane crashed shortly after noon on Sunday in Shirley, Long Island.
Shirley, New York - A small plane crashed Sunday in the middle of a suburban neighborhood in Suffolk County, killing the pilot and one passenger and seriously injuring a second passenger, authorities said.
The single-engine plane took off from Brookhaven Calabro Airport around noon and had trouble "almost immediately," crashing less than a mile from the airstrip, said Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko, who was at the scene Sunday afternoon.
Witnesses said the struggling Socata TB10 plane flew just over the roofs of houses in the heavily wooded hamlet of Shirley, about 65 miles east of Manhattan. It then crashed into a large tree, struck a Dumpster on the ground and burst into flames on Helene Avenue, witnesses said.
"I just stood there, and I froze," said Melvin Resto, 24 years old, who watched the scene from his backyard along with his sister, Jacqueline Resto and her boyfriend, Darnell Lee. "I was very traumatized."
Mr. Resto and Mr. Lee, 26, a trained aviation electrician, said they rushed out to the crippled plane and used two garden hoses to try to keep flames from engulfing the pilot, who appeared unable to move his legs.
Mr. Resto reached out to grab the man's shoulder, but he said the heat was too intense for him to get any closer.
"We tried to get as close as we could to get him out of there," Mr. Resto said. "We couldn't get him out of there."
The identity of the pilot, pronounced dead at the scene, is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
The Suffolk County Police Department released the names of the two passengers Sunday evening. Both Jane Unhjem, 60, and Erik Unhjem, 61, of upstate Goshen, N.Y., were taken to Stony Brook University Hospital after the crash. Later Sunday night police said Ms. Unhjem died of her injuries; Mr. Unhjem was listed in serious condition.
A National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said the agency had opened a probe into the crash and was sending an investigator to Shirley to examine the aircraft and the scene.
The plane is registered to a man in Orlando, Fla., said Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman with the Federal Aviation Administration. No one on the ground was injured. There was damage to trees, an automobile and the Dumpster.
Low-flying planes are a common sight in Shirley, an eastern Long Island community that is home to Calabro airport. But accidents are rare.
It was the first fatal aircraft accident of the year in New York state, said the NTSB. Mr. Lesko said the last fatal crash involving a plane that flew out of the Calabro airport was about two years ago, when a small plane crashed into the Great South Bay.
On Sunday, neighbors described a chaotic, anguished few moments as neighbors attempted to douse flames and save passengers before rescuers arrived. "My knees are still shaking," said Awilda Ruiz, 47, who lives a block from the scene on Crestwood Drive. "I was inside, and my daughter screamed, 'Oh my God,'" she said. "I ran out to see what happened."
Steve Bono, 50, said he tried to put out the flames with a garden hose while his daughter Christina, 22, put wet towels on the two passengers as they lay in a nearby driveway.
"We were just trying to figure out their names, making sure they could breathe, making sure they could move at least a little bit, making sure they could feel all their limbs," Ms. Bono said.
Her father said: "That's all we could do."
Others expressed frustration that their efforts didn't succeed.
"We could have done something about it if we had more help," said Mr. Resto, who tried to save the pilot. "I was really determined to get him out."
Mr. Resto said the image of the trapped pilot remained in his head.
"I feel like I can't even sleep," he said. "It's just too intense."
The last fatal plane crash in New York was in December 2011 in upstate Fulton, when an amateur-built plane took a nose-dive and hit trees and terrain, according to an NTSB report of the incident.
New Jersey hasn't had any fatal crashes this year. Connecticut had one incident in July near Hartford, when a private pilot was killed after the plane crashed during its final approach to Robertson Airport.