Probe into fatal flight underway

Gwen Chamberlain
Steve Seely's 1966 Cessna veered from the North-South runway, striking the gound with its nose and propeller before coming to rest with its tail against the fence about 100 yards from the runway.

The investigation into the May 3 crash of a small airplane at Penn Yan-Yates County Airport is continuing under the direction of the National Transportation Safety Board, with support from the Federal Aviation Administration, a representative from the plane’s manufacturer, and Yates County Sheriff’s Department.

Steven P. Seely, 55, of Stanley in Ontario County died in the crash, which happened around 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Yates County Sheriff Ronald Spike released Seely’s identity at about 9 p.m. Sunday night, explaining Seeley’s wife, Mary, was out of state at the time.

Seely was a member of the Penn Yan Flying Club, but owned his own airplane, which he kept at the airport. He did have a student pilot license, and Spike says the preliminary investigation indicated he was practicing take-offs and landings Sunday morning in his 1966 Cessna 172G #N3969L.

Seely is the owner of Seely Engine Machine business in Ontario County. That business was damaged by fire Jan. 27.

Monday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Seely Engine Machine said that the company was not interested in providing a statement at this time.

Doug Brazy, an air safety investigator with the NTSB, who arrived in Penn Yan about 10:30 p.m. Sunday, says the investigation will include looking at the facts and circumstances around the pilot, the plane, and environmental conditions such as weather. Brazy expects to be in the area for three to four days for the investigation.

He says they have begun the examination of the airplane, which they hope to complete Tuesday. They have also begun interviewing witnesses and collecting records from the FAA.

An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday morning at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hospital in Penn Yan. Brazy says those results will not be released before the preliminary report.

That report will be available in about 10 days, followed by a factual report with more details in six to eight months. The final report with a probable cause can take up to a year, says Brazy.

“We are here to investigate the facts and circumstances of this airplane accident, and hopefully try to recommend safety changes to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again,” said Brazy.

Spike said, “It is the mission of the NTSB to determine the cause of civilian aircraft accidents such as this fatality.”

The plane was removed from the accident scene by Doug Marchionda Trucking and Excavating of Penn Yan and taken under NTSB watch to the Seneca Flight hanger for further plane and engine examination by investigators.

The airport is completely open now. It was initially closed Sunday morning. The East-West runway was opened later in the day.

Spike says since the airport has been reconfigured and expanded to include the North-South runway, there has not been a fatal accident on the airport property until this incident.

Sunday morning Spike said the preliminary investigation indicated the aircraft was taking off southbound on the main North-South runway, and the plane veered off to the east, striking the ground hard with its nose/propeller, and spun around, coming to rest with the tail against the airport fence and trees that border the fence, about 100 yards from the runway.

Seely was found in the aircraft, strapped into the seat, according to Spike. Penn Yan Fire Department members extricated his body from the aircraft.

The crash was witnessed by golfers at the Lakeside Country Club. Robert Church of Penn Yan said there was no explosion, but one of the other golfers in his party described the aircraft falling to the ground from about 90 or 100 feet in the air. The golfers did not note any indication of the engine cutting off.

The golfers called 911 at 11:38 a.m. Penn Yan Fire Department, Yates County Sheriff’s Deputies, Penn Yan Ambulance, Medic 55, and Yates County Office of Emergency Management also responded to the scene. Yates County Coroner Steve Culver pronounced Seely dead at the scene.

Fire officials did not report any fire, but they laid down a quantity of foam around the plane, which was leaking fuel, to prevent a fire.

Brazy praised the work of local officials, saying, “Sheriff Spike and his staff have been quite extraordinary in their support of our accident investigation efforts.”