A ‘miracle’ on Clarendon

Plane crash leaves pilot, passengers unscathed

A single-engine prop plane was suspended a foot off the ground by power lines it crashed into in front of a Clarendon Drive home on Sunday. The pilot and passengers were unharmed.
A single-engine prop plane was suspended a foot off the ground by power lines it crashed into in front of a Clarendon Drive home on Sunday. The pilot and passengers were unharmed.
Sue Grieco/Herald

The Cessna 172 likely plunged quietly in the night, with the fuel in its single, propeller-driven engine having run out after it made six attempts to land in Sunday’s deep fog.

GPS placed the 27-year-old pilot and his two passengers just northeast of John F. Kennedy International Airport shortly before 10 p.m. when the small plane’s altitude started to drop — directly above Valley Stream.

At that point, any number of factors could have caused the trio’s day trip to Niagara Falls to end in tragedy, as for 15 tense minutes the plane made a slow, aimless descent over a crowded residential area.

Instead, as it neared the ground, it clipped the Revival Outreach Ministries on Hillside Avenue, sending it careening into power lines outside a Clarendon Drive home where it became entangled, suspended in the air as if caught in a spider’s web, just a foot from the ground and almost certain death.

“All you have to do is appreciate that there was a miracle today,” said State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, of Elmont, who was on the scene after the crash.

All three of the plane’s occupants reportedly walked away unharmed.

Some residents recalled hearing a loud explosion, others a more subtle vibration, and another said he heard a bang and a sizzle — before all lost power in their Central Valley Stream homes.

When residents emerged from their houses, they were greeted not with a blown transformer, as some said they initially believed, but a plane dangling in the air, its visibly shaken occupants sitting on the curb across the street with no apparent injuries.

“There was no warning,” resident Kenneeda Taylor-Sidberry said, adding that her son had just returned home from walking the family dog when their power went out. After a few moments, Taylor-Sidberry said she heard shouts about a plane crash outside.

Incredulous, she said, she stepped outside to see the pilot and passengers, sitting. “They were obviously in shock,” she said. “But they were fine.”

“It sounded like a huge boom,” said Deanna Young, who lives two houses away from the crash site. Although she had not seen the plane hit the wires, when she stepped out of her home she saw neighbors congregating around the plane, with the pilot and passengers sitting nearby. “They looked pretty shaken up,” Young added.

Arash Bhagtana, who lives on an adjacent block, said he felt the ground move slightly when the impact occurred. “The power went out right away,” he said.

Nassau County police identified the pilot as Dongil Kim, from Flushing, Queens, a relatively new pilot who was flying out of the Danny Waizman Flight School in a rental plane at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale. His passengers were Hongjoo Na, 29, and Jumwoo Jung, 26, police said, both visiting from South Korea and staying with Kim.

Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder reported that the three had taken off from Republic at about 7 a.m. on Sunday and headed to Niagara Falls, where they stayed for a few hours before returning.

Disoriented in the dense fog, Kim tried to land at Republic four times, Ryder said, before being redirected to Kennedy, where he made another two landing attempts before running out of fuel.

Na, he said, suffered a sprained finger — the crash’s only injury.

PSEG Long Island reported that nearly 200 homes were without power due to the crash. Full service was restored by about 8:30 a.m. the next day, the utility reported.

Neighbors expressed amazement that the plane’s occupants had escaped largely unscathed. “It was insane to me,” Young said. “They had just gotten into a plane crash, and got out without an apparent scratch on them.”

“They walked away,” Tayor-Sidberry said. “Thank God, that’s all.”