A Saratoga Springs pilot was in critical condition late Tuesday after the small plane he was flying lost power during takeoff and crashed into trees shortly after 3 p.m. near the Schenectady County Airport.
The 42-year-old pilot was found trapped in his upside down plane. Initially he was talking but soon lapsed into unconsciousness, officials said. He was taken to Ellis Hospital in Schenectady by ambulance and later flown to Albany Medical Center.
Police declined to identify the pilot Tuesday evening but sources identified him as Charles Hudson. An Albany Medical Center official confirmed they had a patient by that name listed in critical condition late Tuesday night.
The aircraft, described as a home-built replica of a World War II P-51 Mustang, had just taken off from the airport when it crashed in a wooded area north of the Empire State Aerosciences Museum and east of Route 50.
“He announced he was having engine problems and that he was losing power,” said fellow pilot Ron Volungus of Rexford. Volungus was airborne in his own plane near the airport and did not see the crash. “The tower cleared him to land on any available runway.”
But just after 3 p.m., the plane crashed. Arriving firefighters from the Air National Guard and Thomas Corners Fire Department cut Hudson from the wreckage. They also extinguished a fire in the engine before it reached the pilot.
“They knocked that down real quick with the crash truck, then they worked to get the pilot out,” air base Fire Chief Jim Acors said.
Hudson was believed to have head injuries and possibly leg injuries. Fire officials on the scene described the extrication as like that from a car accident.
The Federal Aviation Administration was on scene shortly after the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board was expected today.
“The fire departments did an absolutely great job in getting the trees cut down to try and get back in there,” Glenville Police Department spokesman Sgt. Stephen Janik said.
The crash appeared to largely escape notice in the surrounding area. Mike Smith, of Stillwater, was cleaning out his car at the Laserwash, near the crash site, and he said he didn’t hear anything.
But John Panoski, a volunteer at the Aerosciences Museum, happened to be watching with a friend as the plane gained altitude and began to wobble. The pilot appeared to be trying to make a turn back to the runway but they lost sight of it.
“I knew he was in trouble when I saw the airplane wobbling, sway back and forth,” Panoski said.
Panoski described the plane as similar to the real World War II P-51 fighters but on a smaller scale. He believed it was made of wood and fiberglass.
They feared the worst. The friend hopped in his truck for nearby Glenridge Road. Panoski took the access road near the runway. He followed snapped off trees to the crash site. The plane was upside down.
Panoski hollered but got no response. Soon, the plane caught fire. “That’s what scared me,” Panoski said.
“Thank God, by that time the Air National Guard truck pulled in,” Panoski said.
The crash was the first at the airport since January 2001, when a twin-engine jet bound for New York City slid off a runway when the pilot aborted takeoff because of suspected mechanical problems. No one was injured.
In January 2002, a plane was damaged when a man attempted to steal it and take off. The man was arrested.
Also assisting in Tuesday’s crash were the East Glenville Fire Department, Alplaus Fire Department, county Fire Coordinator John Nuzback, county Public Works Director Joseph Ryan, air traffic control, Mohawk Ambulance, the state police and sheriff’s department. A medevac crew from Colonie Emergency Medical Services was on the state police helicopter that responded and assisted in stabilizing and transporting Hudson.