Heroes Come To Rescue In Plane Crash

‘It was like an avalanche hitting the trees’
Craig Schum, left, helped victims of Sunday’s plane crash near East Hampton Airport get away from the burning wreckage. Patricia Currie

    The pilot and passenger of a single-engine Mooney airplane that crashed in the woods by East Hampton Airport early Sunday evening were helped to safety by three good Samaritans.
    The pilot, Steven Bochter, and his fiancé, Kim Brillo, were airlifted to Stony Brook University Medical Center. Both were released on Tuesday.
    The plane crashed about 100 yards east of Daniel’s Hole Road at about 5:45 p.m. Sunday.
    “Something got my attention,” said Michael Norbeck, the manager of Sound Aircraft Services, which is based at the airport. “I looked at the aircraft. I couldn’t hear the power. It was flying under reduced or no power. It banked sharply to the left and disappeared into the trees. We heard the crunching of the trees,” he said. “We knew exactly what it was.”
    “It looked like it was turning really low. It looked like he was doing something for people on the ground,” said Jack Gleeson, 17, who is working at the airport this summer.
    Mr. Norbeck and Mr. Gleeson were standing on the tarmac when the plane went down. Both men began running toward the crash. Mr. Gleeson scaled the 10-foot fence that surrounds most of the airport’s perimeter.
    “He was a lot faster than I was,” Mr. Norbeck said.
    Craig Schum, a bread baker at Levain Bakery in Wainscott, had stopped at the airport, curious about a protest organized by the Quiet Skies Coalition.
    “It happened in front of us,” Mr. Schum said. “It was like an avalanche hitting the trees. Then, boom. I just started running. I had to get over the deer fence,” he said. He got to the top and looked down. “I thought, ‘I shouldn’t jump from here.’ Then I jumped. When I got there, the front of the plane was on fire.”
    Mr. Gleeson and Mr. Schum both arrived at the burning wreckage at about the same time. The two men’s memories of the moment-to-moment events differ slightly. Mr. Bochter had gotten out of the plane, but looked dazed, they said. Mr. Schum remembers pulling Ms. Brillo, who he saw lying half out of the cockpit, away from the wreckage. Mr. Gleeson thought she was already on the ground, a few feet from the cockpit. Both men thought she had not survived.
    “Even when I was carrying her, I thought she was dead,” Mr. Schum said.

    “It was kind of iffy,” said Mr. Gleeson, who will be a senior at East Hampton High School. “I didn’t see too much of her chest rising and falling.”
    That was when Mr. Norbeck arrived. He asked the pilot about the fuel tank. “He said the tank was nearly full.”
    The fire was quickly spreading throughout the plane. The emergency crews had not yet arrived. Mr. Gleeson and Mr. Schum, carrying Ms. Brillo, went toward the fence while Mr. Norbeck guided the pilot in that direction. Once there, the men were able to jack up the bottom of the fence, getting the pilot and passenger to the other side. At that point as the paramedics arrived, it became clear to them that Ms. Brillo was alive.
    The burning wreckage became a fireball, Mr. Schum said, that soon reached the tops of the surrounding trees. The airplane was destroyed.
    “They were very brave,” East Hampton Fire Chief Tom Bono said Wednesday about the three men. Mr. Bono was one of the first on the scene after the pilot and passenger were pulled to safety. “They were heroes for saving those lives. That takes a lot of courage to jump into a fire and save those people.”
    Three brush trucks were called to the scene, along with about 40 to 50 men, Mr. Bono said. “We brought our brush truck and took that to get the flame out,” he said. The Bridgehampton company’s truck soaked down the surrounding area to make sure the fire did not spread, and Sag Harbor’s brush truck stood by.
    “We’ve got an airport apparatus truck on the scene,” he said. It would have been deployed immediately if the crash had occurred on the tarmac.
    Mr. Bochter and Ms. Brillo, who live in Massachusetts, had been bound for Taunton, Mass. From his hospital room on Tuesday, Mr. Bochter declined to comment.
    The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the cause of the crash.