Press-Republican

February 23, 2013

Despite confused coordinates, crash victims rescued

3 men uninjured at spotwhere their plane landed

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — RAY BROOK — Three men who survived a plane crash in the High Peaks wilderness Thursday evening were rescued by rangers who reached them by snowmobile and snowshoes.

But some confusion over their location complicated the effort.

Michael Oster, 54; Jeff O’Connor, 58; and Frank Dombroski, 51; all from Westfield, N.J., were flying in a Vans RV-10 amateur-built aircraft when they were forced to make an emergency landing just after 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Uninjured, they called 911 and reached Ray Brook dispatch, and State Police requested help from State Department of Environmental Conservation forest rangers.

The callers gave Global Positioning Satellite coordinates that indicated the plane was near the summit of Nye Mountain, a trail-less High Peak just west of the Adirondack Loj in the Town of North Elba, DEC spokesman Dave Winchell said in an email Friday morning.

“State Police dispatched aviation resources, but the helicopter advised at 7:35 p.m. that, due to weather and darkness, they were returning to Lake Clear Airport. (So) six forest rangers responded from the Last Chance Ranch with snowmobiles and cold-weather gear.”

TARP SHELTER

Two DEC forest rangers initially left from the Mount Jo Trailhead on Adirondack Loj Road and headed toward what they thought was the crash site on snowshoes, carrying cold-weather gear for the victims, Winchell said. 

A second team of four forest rangers started out a short time later with evacuation equipment.

“The three male subjects in the plane kept in touch with responders and appeared to be uninjured,” Winchell said. “The subjects erected a tarp as a temporary shelter, put on extra clothing and appeared to be cold but stable.”

NEW CRASH SITE

At 10:50 p.m., the rangers concluded that the Nye Mountain location was not correct. 

“Initial location information given to Essex County by the subjects was misinterpreted — the subjects only had Phase 1 cell-phones without GPS and gave their own GPS coordinates to the county in an unfamiliar format,” Winchell said in the email.

“Rangers recognized this issue and relocated to the Jackrabbit Trail just west of Lake Placid near Big Burn Mountain, east of Haystack Mountain.”

The team of rangers was able to maintain direct cell-phone contact with the men as the search continued.

BUSHWACKED PATH

“The second group of forest rangers was redirected to Big Burn Mountain, where they were joined by a another ranger,” Winchell said. “The search team was able to reach the crash site by snowmobile via the Jack Rabbit Trail and bushwhacking on snowshoes the last half mile.”

The crash site was a mile from the Whiteface Inn Road in North Elba.

DEC said eight local forest rangers took part in the search and rescue: Lt. Charles Platt; Joe LaPierre, Scott VanLaer, Jim Giglinto, Kevin Burns, David Russell, Pete Evans and Chris Kostoss.

The rescuers reached the three men just before 2 a.m. Friday, Winchell said, and took them by snowmobile to the Whiteface Inn Road trailhead of the Jackrabbit Trail, reaching that point at about 3:25 a.m.

“Lake Placid Rescue assessed the subjects, and it was determined the men were fine, and they declined any further medical treatment or transport,” Winchell said.

CAUSE UNKNOWN

The aircraft involved in the crash has tail number N10FD and is listed in the Federal Aviation Agency registry as owned by Dombroski.

It is a fixed-wing, single-engine plane with a four-cycle engine and was certified by FAA in April 2010.

The Van’s Aircraft website describes it as “a four-person airplane, not just an airplane with four seats. It will carry four FAA standard people, full fuel and 60 pounds of baggage. The cabin accommodates four full-sized adults. Composite gull-wing doors let occupants board from both sides.”

“Homebuilt aircraft are put together by individuals who are qualified to certify it for flight,” FAA spokesman Jim Peters said Friday.

“Or you can have someone put it together for you and then certify it. Then FAA would issue an airworthiness certificate.”

Dombroski could not be reached Friday to talk about what happened in the air and the ensuing rescue.

The Federal Aviation Agency said the National Transportation Safety Board has taken up the investigation into what caused the RV-10 to malfunction.

State Police have assigned a unit at the trailhead for site security pending that effort.

NTSB press officials did not respond to Press-Republican calls for information on the condition of the aircraft or the nature of the crash.

Email Kim Smith Dedam:

kdedam@pressrepublican.com