Saratoga County

Plane-crash victim remembered as ‘great leader for the Capital Region’

A small plane crashed this morning in a front yard off Van Vranken Road in Clifton Park, killing the

A small plane crashed this morning in a front yard off Van Vranken Road in Clifton Park, killing the passenger and critically injuring the pilot.

The plane went down about 7:30 a.m., minutes after taking off from Albany International Airport en route to Plattsburgh, state police said.

Killed was passenger Walter Uccellini, 67, of Albany. The pilot was identified as James Quinn, 68, of Westerloo, police said.

An official with the Troy-based United Group of Companies confirmed both men were executives there. Uccellini was the chairman of United Group, while Quinn was the vice chairman. Federal Aviation Administration records show Quinn as a certified airline transport pilot. His current certification was issued in February 2009.

United Group develops and manages property around the region and state. Most notably locally, United served as the developer for the about-to-open Schenectady County Community College dorm project.

Uccellini worked closely with college and development officials on the project and was expected to be on hand at the ceremony next month to mark the project’s completion.

“It’s a huge loss,” Schenectady Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said this afternoon. “He was a great leader for the Capital Region, a great developer. He knew how to get a big project financed and built.”

The owner of the plane, who was not on board, was identified as David Leckonby, of West Sand Lake. The plane was a fixed-wing, single-engine BEECH aircraft. It’s most recent certificate was issued in May 2010 and wasn’t to expire until April 2014.

The plane took off from the airport and Quinn quickly recognized some kind of engine problem and was able to radio back to the airport, state police Captain John McCarthy said.

After that, there was no further communication, McCarthy said.

The plane came down in some trees in front of 53 Van Vranken Road. Van Vranken Road itself was blocked off for much of the morning as rescue crews worked and officials investigated.

After hitting the trees, the wings sheared off and the body of the plane skidded across the yard, coming to rest near the property line.

Inside the home at the time were Jeanne Hoffman and her husband of 34 years Howard Hoffman.

Jeanne Hoffman said the two were in bed working on a crossword puzzle when she heard something that sounded like a two cars hitting each other, not a plane crash.

When she asked her husband if he heard it, he didn’t. When she went to investigate, though, she saw the plane.

When she first saw the pilot, he was moving. She yelled back to her husband. He dialed 911.

“I guess I thought I wish those people would get here really fast,” she said. “I told my husband to tell them to hurry, because he’s still alive, but he’s in tough shape.”

Soon she discovered the passenger. The passenger, though, showed no signs of life.

Of how close the plane came to hitting the house, Hoffman called it “just unbelievable, but we’re just so lucky.”

She also noted her neighbors, whose home appeared to be spared when two trees blocked the plane’s path on the ground, were not home at the time.

“We were all very, very fortunate, except the poor man on the passenger side,” she said.

Down Van Vranken Road, Bruce Hoffman first heard of the crash from his father Howard.

Bruce Hoffman said he heard larger planes pass overhead this morning, something that wasn’t unusual. The son, though, said he then heard a smaller plane pass.

“I thought it sounded funny,” Bruce Hoffman said. “I didn’t think another thing of it until 15 minutes later, I got a call from my dad.”

The plane had come down the father’s yard. “I walked over and he was absolutely right.”

The road was cut off and there was police tape around the plane, Bruce Hoffman recalled.

He wasn’t completely sure the plane that caught his attention was the plane that went down.

At United Group, officials there called the day “a truly stunning and sad day.”

“We have lost our father, brother, husband, grandfather, uncle, friend, partner and leader,” the statement reads. “Walter Uccellini was a giant of the world, a truly inspirational figure that we will always love and remember with great fondness.”

“We are a solid team at United Group and will find a way to carry on,” the statement continued. “But today we mourn the loss of a great, great man.”

As for the company’s vice chairman, “please send thoughts and prayers for Jim Quinn and his entire family. We are all praying he fights through this.”

Mike Gerard was out walking his dog with his wife this morning, hoping to get a closer look at what happened.

They live in a development just off Van Vranken, though some distance from the crash scene. They didn’t hear anything from the crash.

Gerard said the first indication something had happened was a helicopter circling the neighborhood at about 8 a.m. The helicopter seemed to land in the area.

When he heard exactly what happened, he said it was something his wife has worried about.

The area of Clifton Park is in a takeoff and landing route to the Albany airport. Several planes could be seen from Van Vranken and Crescent taking off from the direction of the airport.

“My wife’s always been nervous about it, we’re in the landing and takeoff pattern,” Gerard said. “It’s something that she’s been worried about. I don’t worry about things until they happen.”

Despite that, they were unaware of any similar incident happening in the area in the past.

Van Vranken Road is expected to remain closed until sometime Thursday, town officials said.

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