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Plane plucked from pond

(Original publication: July 3, 2005)

HAVERSTRAW — Jimmy Warren has been a salvage diver for two years, but yesterday was the first time he'd helped recover an airplane from 30 feet of water.

The Sleepy Hollow resident dived into Bowline Pond about 10 a.m. in relatively clear water in the inlet's center, following a buoy that marked where Ilan Reich's four-seater Cirrus SR22 airplane sank last week.

The only glitch was when the parachute that had allowed the plane to glide, rather than crash, into the water snagged on building foundations left from the Haverstraw mudslide of 1906. The cloth eventually was freed and the plane removed.

Reich issued a Mayday on Thursday afternoon as he was flying over Rockland toward the Westchester County Airport. He deployed the plane's parachute before breaking the pilot's side window with a hammer and escaping as the aircraft hit Bowline Pond.

State police Senior Investigator Kevin McGrath yesterday said Reich, 50, a retired businessman from Manhattan, suffered a medical emergency that apparently caused the accident. No charges were pending in the case, and state police were handing the investigation over to the Federal Aviation Administration. McGrath said police had ruled out any type of terrorism or other illegal activity on the pilot's part or as having caused the accident.

Reich, who was treated at Nyack Hospital after the accident and then went home late Friday, has not answered an e-mail request for information. A Web site that features pictures of Reich and the Cirrus includes information that he began flying in the 1970s but gave up piloting while he pursued a career. He got back into flying in 2002 and spends several days a week as a pilot for Angel Flight, which provides free transportation for patients and their families who cannot afford to pay for airfares to medical facilities.

Yesterday, John Stiloski, owner and operator of Hudson River Recovery/Stiloski Automotive in Tarrytown, and a crew that included Warren, a freelance diver, arrived at Bowline to fish the Cirrus out of the water. Stiloski said he got a call about 4 p.m. Friday asking if he would help in salvage efforts.

"They said they had an aircraft in 30 feet of water that needed to be removed from Bowline bay," Stiloski said as he leaned on the Cirrus' wing after the plane had been safely towed ashore. Although he said he'd salvaged pieces of planes and boats, he'd never pulled an intact airplane from the water in 15 years in business.

They arrived about 9:30 a.m. and sent their boats out, he said.

"It was about 50 feet out in the center of the bay," he said. State police and the Rockland County Sheriff's Department blocked the entrance to the inlet while Stiloski and his crew sailed out to the buoy and Warren dived in.

Visibility was three to four feet, Warren said. The plane was nose-down in about three or four feet of mud but otherwise in good condition. The tail was straight up and about 10 feet below the water's surface. The inlet is about 27 feet deep in that area.

Warren attached a special air bag to the plane to lift it up so the tail would clear the water; four more air bags were attached to the aircraft and a sling to the nose. The plane was towed toward the shore and Stiloski's 60-ton rotator winch hoisted it clear of the water.

The whole process took about three hours, Stiloski said. Once the plane was on land, the wings were removed and the cabin stripped so it could be taken by flatbed truck to Stiloski's business in Tarrytown. The FAA will conduct the investigation there, Stiloski said.

In addition to McGrath, Warren and Stiloski's crew, two representatives from Cirrus were on-site to help with the recovery.

Stiloski said the aircraft was considered the Ferrari of airplanes; a fully equipped model costs about $450,000. He estimated the cost of Reich's model at between $325,000 and $400,000. The wingspan is 38 feet and the plane itself about 26 feet long. Empty, it weighs about 2,300 pounds. Its weight with passengers, fuel and luggage is not supposed to exceed 3,400 pounds.

Although it was equipped to handle a pilot and three passengers, Reich was the only person in the plane at the time it crashed. The hammer he used to escape the cockpit was provided by the manufacturer, placed in the pilot's armrest.

The plane holds about 85 gallons of fuel, most of which was pumped out of the tanks once the aircraft was brought ashore.

Stiloski said none of the fuel from the tanks appeared to have leaked into the water, although there was a slight sheen above the airplane site that apparently came from oil on the engine.

The interior of the plane yielded a couple of DVDs, including Disney's "Finding Nemo."

A handful of neighbors watched the salvage operation from the shore. Once the plane was on land and the inlet open to boat traffic, several pleasure boats and personal ski-type watercraft sailed past as workers dismantled the aircraft.


Easy Street


Richard Stolbach



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