Data Sheds Light On Westchester Airport Small-Plane Crash Fatalities

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Emergency responders practiced in 2011 for the crash of an aircraft with 155 people aboard at the Westchester County Airport.
Emergency responders practiced in 2011 for the crash of an aircraft with 155 people aboard at the Westchester County Airport. Photo Credit: File
JFK International Airport ground crew members examine the damage on the nose of JetBlue Flight 671, that hit a flock of birds in March.
JFK International Airport ground crew members examine the damage on the nose of JetBlue Flight 671, that hit a flock of birds in March. Photo Credit: File
Richard Rockefeller died when his small plane crashed into a wooded property on June 13.
Richard Rockefeller died when his small plane crashed into a wooded property on June 13. Photo Credit: File

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Westchester County Airport has recorded several fatalities related to small-plane crashes within the last decade.

Information released to Daily Voice by Westchester County states seven fatalities have occurred involving the airport since 2004, five of them occurring after 2009.

Read Westchester County's 2009-14 Aircraft Emergency Summary here.

Most recently, Dr. Richard Rockefeller, great-grandson of the late financier John D. Rockefeller, crashed his small plane into a wooded property on June 13 after taking off from the airport. The plane took a dive minutes after taking off and Rockefeller died upon impact.

In June 2011, four people were killed when a small plane on its to Montauk crashed near the airport. The pilot had reported engine trouble and was circling back to land at the airport before crashing in a wooded area.

The NTSB's preliminary report on the Rockefeller crash states the local air traffic controller at Westchester County Airport did not know for certain if Rockefeller's small plane had taken off when it crashed because, "visibility was so low he couldn't tell."

Read the NTSB's preliminary report here.

Rockefeller was piloting a small, five-passenger Piper PA-46 Malibu. The day's weather conditions were  overcast and rainy with a 200-foot cloud ceiling and foggy with a quarter-mile visibility.

As many as 12 percent of plane crashes occur due to inclement weather, according to a plane crash accident database.

However, other reports cite pilot error as the biggest cause, contributing to 50 percent of all cases, according to BBC News.

Airport Manager Peter Scherrer told Daily Voice he did not know if Rockefeller received any prior warning about the poor conditions before taking off.

Rockfeller was a certified instrument pilot, and therefore qualified to fly in low visibility situations using only flight instruments. Instrument pilots are largely responsible for making flight plans and judgment calls based on inclement weather.

Westchester County Airport is owned by the county and sits on land claimed by Harrison, North Castle and Rye Brook. It handles 340 take-offs and landings per day and 2,390 per week.

The airport complies with the Federal Aviation Administration requirement that all airports with commercial airlines perform a plane crash drill every three years.

Westchester County police spokesman Kieran O'Leary said the county performs the drill every two years.

Read the full BBC report here.

See the Plane Crash Info database here.

@suzannesamin

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