It may take federal investigators more than a year to determine why a small plane carrying two prominent local developers went down Wednesday morning in the front yard of a Clifton Park home, killing one man and critically injuring the other.
The man who survived the crash, James F. Quinn, 68, remained unconscious and in critical condition Thursday afternoon, state police said.
Killed in the crash was local developer Walter F. Uccellini, 67, chairman of the Troy-based United Group of Companies. Quinn is the company’s vice chairman. The company develops and manages property around the region and state, including spearheading the soon-to-open dormitory project at Schenectady County Community College.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board arrived at the crash site Wednesday evening, about 12 hours after the 1981 Beechcraft A36TC went down in the front yard at 53 Van Vranken Road.
Investigators began first thing Thursday morning surveying the crash site and preserving evidence that would be lost once wreckage was removed, NTSB air safety investigator Dennis Diaz told reporters Thursday afternoon.
Among items located were three pieces of electronic equipment that investigators hope might hold important data. Diaz also provided a long list of information that will be analyzed. Among that information is the production history of the plane, the engine, the maintenance history and communication recordings with air traffic control.
“What I can’t do is speak to any of that information right now,” Diaz said. “As I said, our purpose here is to document that scene quickly and efficiently and also as factually and respectfully as possible.”
Also being looked at, as with any investigation, Diaz said, is the history of the pilot. While Quinn was initially described by police as the pilot and Uccellini as the passenger, both Quinn and Uccellini were certified pilots, records show.
Uccellini’s most recent commercial pilot certificate came in August 2010 with instrument rating and ratings for single-engine and multi-engine planes. Quinn is listed as a certified airline transport pilot, also with ratings for single-engine and multi-engine planes.
Both forward seats of the Beechcraft plane had fully functioning controls, Diaz confirmed. With that, Diaz said it can sometimes be difficult for investigators to definitively determine who was piloting. Investigators will also interview witnesses. Quinn is expected to be an important witness.
Initial indications point to mechanical failure, state police said Wednesday. The plane took off from Albany International Airport at 7:25 a.m. en route to Plattsburgh, state police said. Four minutes later, a man police identified as Quinn radioed back to the tower to report engine failure.
Asked if he wanted to return to the airport, Quinn said no, he would attempt to land in the direction he was heading. No more communications came after that.
The plane came down in some trees in front of 53 Van Vranken Road. The wings sheared off and the fuselage of the plane skidded across the yard, coming to rest near two trees. Police speculated Quinn may have tried for a landing on the road but couldn’t make it.
Diaz declined to speculate on whether the pilot was trying to land on the road. He also said he had yet to listen to the tower communication and couldn’t confirm who radioed the tower. Regarding the report of engine failure, Diaz said NTSB investigators go into investigations with open minds, not ruling causes in or out until the evidence is examined.
The debris field was contained to the 53 Van Vranken Road property and its neighbor. The plane came to rest just before the apparent property line between the two.
A preliminary report is expected out as early as next week, but more-detailed factual and probable cause reports are not expected until late next year, Diaz said.
Diaz also expressed condolences to friends and family of those involved, as well as thanks to first responders. These included the Vischer Ferry Fire Department, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department and the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Emergency Corps, along with the state police.