Plane Crash Off Amagansett Kills All Aboard

Search by sea and land for two still missing
East Hampton Town lifeguards, who were in the midst of training Saturday afternoon, waited for word as to the location of a downed plane that left four people dead. Chris Schenck

Four lives were lost on Saturday afternoon when a private plane crashed into the ocean off Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett. The plane was on the way back to East Hampton after what was supposed to have been a quick trip to Newport, R.I.

A well-known East Hampton couple, Ben and Bonnie Krupinski, were on board with their 22-year-old grandson, William Maerov. Jon Dollard of Hampton Bays, 47, was the pilot. 

As of press time yesterday,  two bodies had been recovered. East Hampton Town police are awaiting word from the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office before releasing their identities. Those missing are presumed dead. Mr. Dollard’s family said this week that he was one of them.

The families of the three passengers have arranged for services. Visiting hours will take place at the Yardley and Pino Funeral Home in East Hampton from 4 to 8 p.m. today. Mr. Krupinski was an honorary member of the East Hampton Village Fire Department, which will hold Firematic services at 7 p.m. during that time. An interfaith service at the East Hampton Presbyterian Church will begin at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

Mr. Krupinski, a pilot himself for many years, owned the plane, a 1984 twin-engine Piper PA-31-350 Navajo. According to Flight Tracker, it left East Hampton Airport at around 11 a.m. and landed at Newport State Airport about 25 minutes later. Flight Tracker’s system recorded it leaving Newport a few hours later, at 2:16 p.m.

A second plane owned by Mr. Krupinski, a single-engine Beech A36, left East Hampton for Newport just behind the Piper Navajo. That plane left Newport one minute earlier than the larger craft, and was last recorded by Flight Tracker as being near Montauk at 2:32 p.m. It landed safely. Police would not comment on who was aboard. 

The system picked up the Piper Navajo at 2:22 p.m. near Block Island, heading for the airport here. Mr. Krupinski had a hangar nearby, on Industrial Road. The control tower lost contact with the plane approximately three miles south of the airport, “with indications that it may have gone down,” East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said. He declined to give details as to what was said over the radio. The airport contacted police at about 2:50 p.m.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which will lead the investigation into the cause of the crash, reported that it occurred at 2:33 p.m. 

Flight Tracker’s radar shows how much the weather had changed since the planes departed for Newport in bright sunshine. Not long before the crash, the skies darkened over Amagansett and East Hampton as a powerful storm system moved in.

Michael Griffiths, an attorney who lives on Marine Boulevard, had been out jogging and was caught in blinding sheets of rain. He ducked into Vinnie’s Barber Shop in Amagansett Square to call his wife and have her come pick him up. Once safely home, he said, it only got worse. 

The thunderclaps were some of the loudest he had ever heard, he said. “I then saw the mother of all lightning strikes.” One or two more followed. He happened to note the time and later learned it was close to when the plane went down. 

 

Police Response 

“We immediately responded,” said Chief Sarlo, who was off duty at the time. A lieutenant called him immediately after taking the call from the airport.

Marine Patrol units and town and village police officers headed to the ocean beaches. A signal was issued through air and marine channels to be on the lookout for any sign of the plane. The Coast Guard sent cutters and helicopters, and the police dive team mobilized. Soon a county police helicopter and the Air National Guard, based in Westhampton, joined the search with parajumpers. East Hampton Town lifeguards, who had been waiting for the storm to break so they could continue with their Jet Ski training at Main Beach, were at the ready.

“Within five to 10 minutes, a private pleasure-fishing boat found what looked like some debris,” about a mile off Indian Wells Beach, Chief Sarlo said. A commercial fishing vessel in the area found some as well. “Over the course of the next hour or so, the vessels on the scene, out in the debris field, located two bodies.” 

With assistance from the boats, the lifeguards, aboard Jet Skis equipped with trail-behind sleds, were able to bring two bodies to a staging area onshore to await county medical examiner personnel.

Rescuers continued what Chief Sarlo described as a grid-pattern search by both air and sea. G.P.S. coordinates and markers were used in and around the area of the crash where debris was found, in the hope of pinpointing areas where larger portions of the wreckage may have sunk.

It was an “exhaustive search and a major undertaking,” Chief Sarlo said. At nightfall, police resources were pulled from the water for safety reasons, but Coast Guard cutters continued to search through the night while police combed the shoreline. 

On Sunday morning the search began again by air and sea. The Suffolk County Sheriff’s office took its East End Marine Task Force boat to the scene, while state parks police on all-terrain vehicles assisted with the shoreline search. Village police officers also patrolled the shoreline. 

With the current changing to the west, debris washed up Sunday on Main Beach and Georgica Beach all the way past the Southampton Town line, the chief said. All items found are being turned over to the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

“Everybody not only stepped up, but volunteered their services, took direction and went with it. Things went very smoothly from our end, in a very difficult situation,” Chief Sarlo said. 

The Coast Guard, based on its water-temperature timelines for survivability, suspended its search for survivors on Sunday afternoon, and it became a recovery effort. Faced with rough sea conditions, police temporarily stopped searching in the water, but were back out Tuesday afternoon. 

Sonar mapping is being used to narrow the scope of the area where the wreckage may be located. According to Chief Sarlo, parts of the plane could be about 40 to 60 feet deep. The commercial fishing boats have been helpful in showing detectives what was in the area before the crash and what may be there now, the chief said. 

Police will use a remotely operated underwater vehicle as soon as sea conditions cooperate, possibly today. The device sends images back to divers on a boat so that they know what is down below.

“We feel we have located the general area of the wreckage of the plane,” the chief said, but until the condition of the wreckage is known — how many pieces the plane is in, what is inside it — they will not decide how to proceed. 

There is a high likelihood that the two people missing were trapped inside the plane, Chief Sarlo said. 

“We would like to locate them and put this part of the investigation to bed as quickly as possible,” he said. “We want closure for the families. I think the salvage of the plane itself is minor in the minds of the victims’ families.” Recovering their bodies so their families can “lay them to rest . . . that’s what our goal is.”

Donna Liebowitz