The heroics of a group of men may have saved the life of a Massachusetts woman who was in an airplane that crashed in the woods and caught fire shortly after taking off from the East Hampton Airport on Sunday evening.
Craig Schum, of Brooklyn, scaled a fence barefoot, ran through the woods and helped pull the passenger, Kim Brillo, out of the small plane before it burst into flames. He was joined by 17-year-old Jack Gleeson and Michael Norbeck, employees of Sound Aircraft Services, who also scaled the fence and helped move Ms. Brillo to safety before the plane was engulfed in fire.
Steven Bochter, the pilot, was able to walk on his own, and helped Ms. Brillo, who was unconscious and appeared not to be breathing, according to Mr. Gleeson and Mr. Schum.
The two victims were airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, and were in stable condition as of Monday, according to East Hampton Town Police Chief Ed Ecker Jr.
The single-engine plane, a Mooney M20C which seats four people, “lost power” after taking off from the airport’s main runway heading in an easterly direction, according to reports from witnesses and police. The plane appeared to be flying lower than usual, and witnesses said they heard it graze the treetops.
“And the pilot made a turn to the left, to try to make a landing back at the airport,” said Chief Ecker on Sunday hours after the crash. “And he went into the woods, about 100 yards east of Daniels Hole Road.”
The pair were “conscious” before being flown to Stony Brook University Hospital for “varying degrees of injury,” he said. He mentioned that Ms. Brillo may have had a broken arm, and the men who carried her out of the wreckage said she appeared to have difficulty breathing.
Fire departments from East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton responded.
The couple were on their back to Taunton, Massachusetts.
Officials said they do not know what caused the plane to lose power and crash, and it may take some time before it is determined. A National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said it could take a year and a half to complete a thorough report on the accident.
“We’re very early,” said Eric Weiss, a public affairs officer with the NTSB. “It just happened on Sunday, the 26. So we’re very, very, early in the fact-gathering stage. We will not issue a probable cause until the very end of the investigation.”
Mr. Gleeson said he and Mr. Norbeck were near the front of the airport when they saw the plane. He said the plane was flying very low and he heard something that didn’t sound right—“like the engine was about to quit on it.”
“At first I thought it was doing some sort of stunt for people at the airport,” Mr. Gleeson said. “I didn’t think much of it. And a few moments later everybody heard the trees cracking and the plane crash.”
That’s when he and Mr. Norbeck, a manager at Sound Aircraft Services, jumped into Mr. Norbeck’s car. Their rescue mission was delayed when Mr. Norbeck realized he did not have his keys. When he ran inside to get them, Mr. Gleeson took off on foot in the direction of the crash.
“I ran across the road and I saw, well Craig, was already halfway up the fence and looked like he was having trouble getting over it,” said Mr. Schum said.
Mr. Schum saw the crash after he stopped to chat with a group of people who had gathered at the airport to protest noise, especially from helicopters, on his way home from work at the Levaine Bakery in Wainscott.
“And while discussing that, I would say within a minute or two of me stopping, there was just this humongous raucous and explosion in the trees,” a still-shaken Mr. Schum said by phone from work on Monday morning. “The forest basically just, like, blew up right behind us.”
Without even thinking about it, Mr. Schum said he ran toward the explosion. Barefoot, he scaled a fence he estimated was about 12 feet high. “My only thought that I remember was getting to the top of this fence and thinking ‘I should not jump off this thing,’ and then I jumped, and kept running,” Mr. Schum said.
When he got to the plane, it had already caught fire. The pilot was stumbling about and fell down once, “clearly dazed” but conscious, Mr. Schum said. The woman could not move, he said. They were both bleeding.
Mr. Schum, Mr. Gleeson and Mr. Norbeck helped the pilot carry Ms. Brillo back to the fence before the plane became engulfed in flames. This time, instead of trying to scale it, they crawled under it.